Dance

Violetta Elvin, Glamorous Royal Ballet Dancer, Is Dead at 97

Violetta Elvin, who as a young Soviet ballerina brought her Bolshoi training and remarkable glamour to Britain’s Royal Ballet, died on May 27 at her home in Vico Equense, on Italy’s Sorrento peninsula. She was 97.

Her death was reported by her son and only immediate survivor, Antonio Savarese.

When Ms. Elvin joined the Royal Ballet (then known as the Sadler’s Wells Ballet) in London in 1945, there was no doubt — as there would be no doubt for the next 20 years — who the troupe’s leading ballerina was: Margot Fonteyn.

Ninette de Valois, the company’s founder and artistic director, was intent on creating an international star, and her casting policies openly favored Ms. Fonteyn. Yet a constellation of emerging ballerinas was also becoming visible in the company, and Ms. Elvin stood out among them.

In 2008, she was remembered in the British magazine Dancing Times as a “glorious and glamorous” dancer.

In Russia, she was a soloist with the Bolshoi Ballet. She moved to London after marrying Harold Elvin, a British writer and artist.

Alex Bisset, a longtime friend of the Elvins, said in a phone interview that Clement Attlee, the British prime minister and a friend of Harold Elvin’s father, “had direct communication with Joseph Stalin” to ask permission for Violetta to marry Harold and leave the Soviet Union legally with him. The permission was granted.

Violetta Elvin was born Vera Vasilyevna Prokhorova on Nov. 3, 1923, in Moscow. Her father, Vasily Prokhorov, was an inventor considered a pioneer of Soviet aviation. Her mother, Irina Grimouzinskaya, was an artist and actor.

After graduating from the Bolshoi Ballet school in 1942, Violetta joined the Bolshoi Ballet. During the war she was evacuated with her family to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where she was invited to dance leading roles at the Tashkent Ballet. The Bolshoi Ballet, which had been evacuated to the city of Kuybyshev, then asked her to rejoin the company there. When the troupe returned to Moscow in 1943, she danced the ballerina role in “Swan Lake” at the Bolshoi Theater.

After she was reprimanded for her contacts with foreigners, she was transferred to the Stanislavsky Theater Ballet in Moscow.

Violetta had friends who invited her to receptions at the British Embassy in Moscow. It was there that she met Mr. Elvin, who had fled to Moscow when the Germans invaded Norway, where he was visiting. When he asked the British ambassador for a job, he was hired as a night watchman at the embassy.

After she married Mr. Elvin in 1944 and moved to London, Ms. de Valois invited Ms. Elvin to join the Sadler’s Wells Ballet. Although she was extremely popular with audiences, and she adapted to the repertory, she more frequently stepped into roles created for others. She spent only 11 years with the Royal Ballet, after which she made guest appearances with other companies.

She and Mr. Elvin divorced in 1952. She retired from performance after marrying Fernando Savarese, an Italian lawyer who helped manage his family’s hotel in Vico Equense, in 1959. Mr. Savarese died in 2007.

Ms. Elvin was remembered for her distinctive qualities. In the title role of the 19th-century classic “The Sleeping Beauty,” Ms. Fonteyn’s signature piece, she triumphed as a young girl with, in Mr. Bisset’s words, “a smile that came from deep inside a different enjoyment of dancing.”

Frederick Ashton, the Royal Ballet’s great choreographer, created few principal roles for Ms. Elvin. But he notably choreographed the erotic role of the seductress in “Daphnis and Chloe” for her, and he used her strong technique and natural grandeur in neoclassical showpieces that featured four to seven ballerinas at once.

Significantly, she excelled in “Ballet Imperial,” one of George Balanchine’s signature ballets but new to the Royal. Its first cast in London had Ms. Fonteyn as the principal ballerina, but its fast tempos and lack of visible preparations for steps did not come naturally to her.

Ms. Elvin understood a more expansive way of dancing in the Bolshoi and, as with Balanchine, a more dynamic way of moving with “attack.” After the Russian Revolution, Soviet teachers sought to modernize their ballet technique; by contrast, Ms. de Valois’s company looked back to the textbook style of pre-revolutionary Russian ballet.

When the Sadler’s Wells Ballet moved in 1946 into the opera house in Covent Garden, Ms. Elvin knew how dominate a large stage, as Alexander Bland wrote in “The Royal Ballet: The First 50 Years” (1981), but the company had performed so long on the smaller stage of the Sadler’s Wells Theater that its dancing bore traces of “constriction.”

In a memoir published in 1957, Ms. de Valois explained why she had hired Ms. Elvin, the first Soviet ballerina to dance with the Royal Ballet. She had, Ms. de Valois said, infused “new blood into the company.”

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