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Yvonne Mounsey


Born: September, 1919; Died, September 29, 2012.

Yvonne Mounsey, who has died aged 93 of cancer, was a ballerina who danced major roles for George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins with the New York City Ballet in the 1950s and went on to found an influential ballet school in California.

Mounsey danced with the New York City Ballet from 1948 to 1958, rising from soloist to principal dancer and was the Dark Angel in Balanchine's Serenade and Siren in his 1950 revival of Prodigal Son, which were among her favourite roles. For Robbins, she originated the roles of the Queen in The Cage, the Harp in Fanfare and the Wife in The Concert.

She was born Yvonne Louise Leibbrandt on a South African dairy farm outside Pretoria and began taking ballet lessons at seven with a former member of Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova's company. She later studied and danced in the UK with the Russian-born dancer, choreographer and teacher Igor Schwezoff in London, touring with the Carl Rosa Opera Company.

Mounsey also performed around the world with various companies, including the famed Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

She was with another company, the Original Ballet Russe, when Balanchine saw her in New York in 1940. He created a part for her in his 1941 Balustrade.

She became stranded in Cuba in 1941 when the other dancers on tour went on strike and the company disbanded. She survived by becoming a successful nightclub dancer.

After her New York City Ballet years, she helped co-found a ballet company in her native South Africa.

In 1966, Mounsey moved to Los Angeles and opened the Westside School of Ballet, teaching the neoclassical Balanchine technique, which has become a signature style of ballet in America.

The Santa Monica school became influential and its students have included former City Ballet star Jock Soto and current company principal dancers Andrew Veyette and Tiler Peck. The school also counts Joy Womack, the first American woman to dance with the Bolshoi Ballet, among the world-class dancers it has trained.

Mounsey was married three times, to Duncan Mounsey, Albert Hall Hughey and Kelvin Clegg. In addition to a daughter, she is survived by two stepsons, a grandson and a sister.

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