Svetlana Beriosova

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Svetlana Beriosova at the press conference at Hilton Amsterdam in June 1964

Svetlana Beriosova (24 September 1932 – 10 November 1998) was a Lithuanian-born British prima ballerina who danced with The Royal Ballet for more than 20 years.

Born in Kaunas, Lithuania, the daughter of Nicolas Beriosoff (or Nicolas Beriozoff) (1906-1996), a Lithuanian ballet master of ethnic Russian descent who emigrated to England, Svetlana Beriosova was brought in 1940 to the United States, where she studied ballet. Her mother died in New York when Svetlana was 10 years old. She made her professional debut in 1947 with Nesta Toumine's Ottawa Ballet. In 1952, after appearing with several major companies, including the Grand Ballet de Monte Carlo and the Metropolitan Ballet, she joined the Sadler's Wells Ballet, where she became prima ballerina in 1955.

Notable among her leading roles there was Swanilda in Coppélia, which allowed her to showcase her rarely used comic talent. She was far better known for her eloquent and elegant classical style, which was highlighted in the many leading roles she created, such as Princess Belle Rose in John Cranko's The Prince of the Pagodas (1957), the Fairy in Kenneth MacMillan's Le Baiser de la fée (The Fairy's Kiss, 1960), and Lady Elgar in Frederick Ashton's Enigma Variations (1968). She also danced such traditional classical roles as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, and the title role in Giselle.

As well as dancing the entire classical repertoire, Beriosova created the leading part in several modern ballets, notably the title role in Cranko's Antigone (1959). In one of her more unusual modern parts, the title role of Ashton's Persephone (1961), she recited André Gide's poetry in French in addition to dancing to the music of Igor Stravinsky.

Plagued by illness and injuries, Beriosova performed very little in the 1970s. She retired in 1975 but continued to coach young dancers. On her retirement from dancing, she became a popular teacher and dancers' coach, working in public onstage in Maina Gielgud's Steps, Notes and Squeaks in 1978 and 1980.


Beriosova's marriage to psychoanalyst Mohammed Masud Raza Khan ended in divorce in 1974 after 15 years.

Beriosova is godmother to actress/singer Julie Andrews and scenic designer/theatre director Tony Walton's daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton.


Svetlana Beriosova died from cancer, aged 66, in Kensington, London in 1998; She was survived by a cousin.

Further reading[edit]

  • Franks, A.H. (1958). Svetlana Beriosova, a biography. London: Burke. 
  • Swinson, Cyril (1956). Svetlana Beriosova. London: A. and C. Black. 

External links[edit]