18 October 1943|
Johannesburg, South Africa
|Died||11 March 2008
Cape Town, South Africa
|Parent(s)||Lazar Spira and Fanny Pauline Rosen|
Phyllis Bernice Spira (18 October 1943 – 11 March 2008) was a South African ballet dancer who was awarded the title of prima ballerina assoluta in 1984. She was the daughter of Lazar and Fanny Pauline (née Rosen) Spira. She was often compared to the great dancer Alicia Markova by contemporaries and critics. Ninette de Valois referred to her as "a baby Markova", while the editor of Dance & Dancers, Peter Williams, said that "Spira looked uncannily like Markova as well as having a flavour of Fonteyn, but with an approach all her own."
Educated at the Waverley GHS in Johannesburg, in 1959, she was accepted into the Royal Ballet School and soon afterwards joined the Royal Ballet Touring Company. As a soloist with the company she toured extensively in Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. In 1964, she turned down an international career and refused an invitation to dance with the legendary Rudolf Nureyev because she wanted only to be a full-time dancer in South Africa.
She returned to South Africa in 1964 to join the PACT Ballet Company, before moving to CAPAB the following year. She toured with the National Ballet of Canada from 1967–1968. She remained at CAPAB for the next 28 years. She gained the status of Prima Ballerina Assoluta in 1984. She was known for her partnerships with Gary Burne and Eduard Greyling. Her dance career ended in 1988 after an injury on the opening night of Giselle, but she had remained involved in the ballet world as Principal Ballet Mistress of CAPAB, until 1999 during which time it was renamed the Cape Town City Ballet Company. She and her husband, Philip Boyd, ran the Dance For All Programme which is based in the townships of Gugulethu, Nyanga and Khayelitsha around Cape Town.
In 1984, she was made a prima ballerina assoluta by the President of South Africa, a rare title held by only eleven people worldwide.
In 1991, she received South Africa's highest civilian award for excellence, the Order of Meritorious Service Gold. She twice received the Nederburg Award for Ballet, and also was awarded the Lilian Solomon Award and the Bellarte Woman of the Year Award for the Cape (1979). In 2000, the Cape Tercentenary Foundation awarded her the Molteno Medal for lifetime achievement in the performing arts.
In 2003, she was named a member of the Order of the Disa for her contribution to ballet and the development of ballet in disadvantaged communities.
Phyllis Spira married Philip Boyd, a fellow former member of CAPAB, on 21 December 1986 in Cape Town; they had no children.
After a foot injury in August 2007 in London, she underwent a series of operations on both legs. Complications set in and she again underwent surgery which she did not survive. She died on Tuesday 11 March 2008, aged 64, at Kingsbury Hospital, Cape Town.
- Botha, Amanda, Phyllis Spira: A Tribute. Human & Rousseau, Cape Town. ISBN 0-7981-2235-8
- NY Times by Roslyn Sulcas, 17 March 2008
- Last bow for Phyllis Spira
- Prima ballerina Phyllis Spira dies
- Prima ballerina Phyllis Spira dead at 64, Mail & Guardian Online, 12 March 2008
- Emotional farewell to Spira, News24, 13 March 2008
- Times Online Obituary