Home Art & Culture Oleg Briansky, Star Dancer Turned Star Teacher, Is Dead at 91

Oleg Briansky, Star Dancer Turned Star Teacher, Is Dead at 91

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Changing his stage name to Briansky, he joined Roland Petit’s Les Ballets des Champs-Élysées in 1946. There he met Mireille Lefebvre, a Paris-born graduate of the Paris Opera Ballet school who had already been a principal dancer in the Bordeaux Ballet. She was still known as Lefebvre when she and Mr. Briansky performed in New York in 1951 with Petit’s new troupe, Les Ballets de Paris. She became known as Mireille Briane after they joined Festival Ballet in London, where they married in 1953.

“Happy to Be So,” a 2008 documentary by the Russian-born American filmmaker Yelena Demikovsky that was a hit at Lincoln Center’s Dance on Camera Festival, explores why the Brianskys settled in the United States in 1963. “We became teachers,” he says in the documentary, because he had never fully recovered from a knee injury when he was 19: “I danced on a bad knee and it caught up with me. I had to stop dancing.”

Mr. Briansky impressed Princess Grace of Monaco, whom he met as dance adviser to “The Children of Theater Street,” a 1977 documentary about the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet, of which she was a narrator. In 1979 she was the guest of honor at a fund-raising benefit for the scholarship fund of the Briansky Center in Saratoga Springs — “because,” she told The New York Times, “Oleg is a friend of mine and I’m a friend of the ballet.”

Although his career change was not planned, Mr. Briansky’s true legacy may well be as a teacher. For many years he and his wife taught at other schools, sometimes as guest teachers outside New York City and abroad. From 1994 to 2006 they were artistic directors of the Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and its school in Bethlehem, Pa. In the Demikovsky film, he is shown reaching out to the children in a class there with gentle humor, asking them to remember which is their right foot and which is their left.

Ellen Weinstein, who is now artistic director of the National Dance Institute, founded by Jacques d’Amboise, recalled in a phone interview that Mr. Briansky was her first ballet teacher, when he taught a weekly class in Binghamton, N.Y.

“Even as child, I knew I was in the company of greatness,” she said. “Oleg taught with joyful rigor.”

She later attended the couple’s summer school in Saratoga Springs. Noting that she now heads a dance program that teaches children, she added: “Oleg and Mireille had a commitment to excellence that was supportive and loving. Oleg had an influence on the course I took.”

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