Lila Zali

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Lila Zali
Lila Zali as the Black Swan.jpg
Zali as the Black Swan, for the Ballet Pacifica
Elisaveta Borisova Zalipskaya

(1918-07-22)22 July 1918
Died4 January 2003(2003-01-04) (aged 84)
Years active1938–1988

Lila Zali Levienne (July 22, 1918 – January 4, 2003)[1] was a Georgian-born American prima ballerina and ballet director. She founded the Ballet Pacifica in Orange County, California, serving as its choreographer and artistic director from 1962 to 1988.[2]

Early life[edit]

Zali was born Elisaveta Borisova Zalipskaya in Tbilisi, Georgia, the daughter of an operatic tenor. In 1922, while a young child, Zali and her family emigrated from Russia to Washington, DC in the USA following the 1917 Russian Revolution.[3]


After graduating from the School of American Ballet in 1938, Zali became a minor soloist for Mikhail Mordkin's ballet company (now the American Ballet Theatre). She then danced for Colonel de Basil's Ballets Russes but left when her mother refused permission for her to tour with the company in South America.[4] During the summer of 1944, Zali performed regularly on the CBS television show Balleretta.[4][5] She also appeared on the Colgate Comedy Hour.[4] In 1945, she moved to Hollywood where appeared in films including Limelight, Anything Goes and Silk Stockings; and was the dance double for Leslie Caron in Gigi, Gaby and An American in Paris.[6][7] Zali also continued stage performances, dancing prima ballerina for the Los Angeles City Ballet and the Coronet Ballet.[4]

Zali became an instructor at the Los Angeles dance studios of Adolph Bolm and then Michel Panaieff, where one of her students was young Cynthia Gregory.[4]

Following a move to Laguna Beach, California, Zali in 1962 established the Laguna Beach Civic Ballet dance company (later renamed the Ballet Pacifica). She served, without salary, as its director and choreographer until 1988. After choosing a successor, Zali continued as the company's artistic advisor and taught classes until her death at the age of 84.[3]

Zali was a member of the board of directors of Regional Dance America (previously the National Association of Regional Ballet) and served as its president (1994-1996).[7]

Personal life[edit]

In 1945, Zali married the cellist, Nicholas "Kolia" Levienne, who founded the Laguna Beach Chamber Music Society. Zali died of natural causes in Laguna Beach, California in 2003.[3] She is buried at Pacific View Memorial Park in Corona del Mar.


Year Title Role Notes
1951 An American in Paris Ballet Dancer Uncredited
1955 The Prodigal Monkey Uncredited, (final film role)


  1. ^ Lila Zali Levienne, Social Security Death Index, Master File. Social Security Administration, retrieved 10-23-2012
  2. ^ Morgan, Lael (July 23, 1969). "Behind the Success: Lila Zali". Los Angeles Times. p. B1.
  3. ^ a b c Pasles, Chris (November 9, 2003). "Lila Zali, 84; Dance Teacher Was Founder of Ballet Pacifica". Los Angeles Times. p. Obituary. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d e Curtis, Cathy (November 14, 1987). "From Plans to Pointes, Lila Zali Has Led Ballet Pacifica for 25 Years". Los Angeles Times. p. 3.
  5. ^ Schrader, Marty (July 15, 1944). "Television Reviews:CBS Television". Billboard: 11.
  6. ^ Carlson, Rita Marie (September 1988). "Grooming Orange County's Dancers". Orange Coast Magazine. 14 (9): 174–175.
  7. ^ a b Staff (March 21, 2012). "A Swan Remembered". Laguna Beach Independent. Archived from the original on 27 January 2013. Retrieved 24 October 2012.

Further reading[edit]

  • Who's Who of American Women. 15th edition, 1987-1988. Wilmette, IL: Marquis Who's Who, 1986.
  • Stiles, Florence Burn (1986). Lila Zali: The Multi-faceted Career of an American Ballerina, 1937-1986. University of California, Riverside.

External links[edit]

  • "Lila Zali". Find A Grave. January 12, 2003. p. 7080362. Retrieved 24 October 2012.