Great leader and teacher of dance




14-3-1914 19-6-2011

IT IS hard to conceive of anyone who has contributed more to the broad spectrum of classical and folkloric dance in Australia than Marina Berezowsky, who has died in Hobart. She was 97.

Trained in the Soviet Union, she was a towering figure of authoritative dignity passionate, inimitable and inspirational in ballet and folk dance.

Berezowsky was co-founder of the West Australian Ballet before becoming a classical dance teacher with the Borovansky Ballet and Ballet Victoria. She was also one of four foundation teachers of The Australian Ballet School. Her other work included coaching at the Victorian College of the Arts, for the Bayda Cossacks, and as a founder of the Kolobok Folkloric Dance Company.

Born Marina Narbut in St Petersburg, her family had moved there from Kiev in Ukraine. Her father, Georgij Narbut, was a famed graphic artist, and she was brought up in The World of Art circle of artists including the legendary Serge Diaghilev, Leon Bakst, Alexander Benois and Michel Fokine. She learned painting, drawing and classical ballet at an early age.

At age 20, she married Alexander Berezowsky, who became a renowned sculptor, whose works were acquired by the National Gallery of Australia.

She danced with the State Operetta Theatre in Kiev from 1935-36, and with the Gorky Opera Ballet in Russia from 1937-38. Her only child, Valentina, was born in 1940.

During World War II, the Berezowskys joined the Ukrainian Musical Theatre, she as a dancer, he as a designer. During the German occupation of Ukraine, the company was conscripted to travel entertaining German troops. After the war, the Berezowskys spent four years in a displaced persons camp near Hamburg, before they moved to Perth. There, with Kira Bousloff, she co-created the West Australian Ballet.

In 1956, the family moved to Melbourne, where they befriended Xenia and Edouard Borovansky in the heyday of the Borovansky Ballet. Berezowsky became a talented, intelligent teacher, involved in the development of performers, characters, actors, stagecraft, and choreography.

When the Australian Ballet School opened under Dame Margaret Scott in 1964, Berezowsky, by then aged 50, joined her as one of the original four teachers she taught classical and character dance. In its first few years, the second half of the school's annual performance was always a sensational character ballet, created by Berezowsky, who was referred to as "Madam".

From 1969 to 1975 she worked with Laurel Martyn for the Victorian Ballet Guild (later Ballet Victoria), in her blunt way encouraging and showcasing each person's particular artistic gifts.

When the great Soviet director of national dance, Igor Moiseyev, came to the Australian Ballet School in 1968 to see Berezowsky's csardas, mazurkas and the rest, he was astounded that her students could dance anything he threw at them at a level of excellence found only at his own school.

In 1969, trained ballet students together with talented dancers from Melbourne's ethnic groups, persuaded Berezowsky to train them in character dance. Those classes grew into the dance company, Kolobok, co-founded with her friend Eva Segal it flourished for more than a decade.

From 1977 to 1984, she taught character dance at the VCA, and in 1984 she was honoured with an Order of Australia for services to classical ballet.

In 1988, Berezowsky travelled to the United States where she held classes in character and classical dance for universities in Michigan and Florida. From 1989 to 1993, she taught with the Utassy Ballet School at Nunawading, Victoria, and from 1990 to 1993, she was choreographer for the Ukrainian ensemble, the Bayda Cossacks.

When she turned 80 in 1994, colleagues and friends around the world paid for her and her granddaughter, Yvonne Collins, to fly to the Ukraine. She had not seen her brother and other relatives for more than 50 years.

In April 1996, aged 82, she retired and went to live with her daughter, Valentina, in Hobart. In her retirement, she enjoyed sketching and painting.

A memorial service to to honour Berezowsky will be held at 3pm on July 15 in Studio 2 at The Australian Ballet Centre in Southbank. She is survived by her daughter Valentina and granddaughter Yvonne Collins.

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