Sonia Gaskell


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(b Vilkaviskis, 14 Apr. 1904; d Paris, 9 Jul. 1974)

Lithuanian-Dutch dancer, teacher, choreographer, and ballet director. One of the most important figures in the development of Dutch ballet. She studied in Kharkov in the Ukraine but fled to Palestine in 1921 to avoid the pogroms against Jews in Russia. She arrived in Paris in 1925 where she trained with Lubov Egorova and Léo Staats. She began her career as a cabaret dancer, touring Europe in the 1930s, then became founder and choreographer of Les Ballets de Paris (1936–9) before going to Amsterdam in 1939 as a teacher with her Dutch husband. During the Second World War she went into hiding, although managed to continue giving ballet lessons, and afterwards ran several companies, Ballet Studio '45, Ballet Recital, and the Netherlands Ballet. She also founded the Netherlands Ballet Academy in The Hague. In 1961 she became artistic director of the newly formed Dutch National Ballet, a position she held until 1968. Although she choreographed many ballets for her various companies, it was as a teacher and director that Gaskell made her greatest contribution. She gave the Netherlands a ballet company capable of performing the 19th-century classics, and promoted new choreographers from within her ranks, notably van Dantzig.

Subjects: Dance.

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