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Dancer Yvonne Mounsey honored by L.A. County Board of Supervisors

November 18, 2009 |  4:00 pm

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors' ballet lover Zev Yaroslavsky conferred a scroll of recognition Tuesday to former Balanchine dancer and venerable ballet instructor Yvonne Mounsey.  The scroll honors Mounsey’s lifelong contribution to ballet and marks the longtime Los Angeles resident’s 90th birthday.

Mounsey The strawberry-blond ballerina, looking slim, elegant and happy, accepted Yaroslavsky’s tribute in her lilting accent: “I enjoy my work and look forward to continuing,” she said. “We have a strong outreach program that brings in children to see our annual 'Nutcracker.' Giving children exposure to ballet is what we’re all about.” 

The South Africa-born Mounsey got her start in pre-World War II Europe when Leonide Massine hired the English-trained dancer for a stint with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, rehearing in Paris and performing on the Côte d’Azur. During the war, Mounsey danced in ballet exile in South America, and, hooking up with Colonel W. de Basil’s Original Ballet Russe, performed in Australia under the stage name Irina Zarova. Mounsey then participated in the post-war artistic blooming of New York City, dancing for George Balanchine.  

She met Balanchine in 1941 (he was then a struggling freelance choreographer) and was invited to join his new troupe in 1948. Her name appeared on New York City Ballet’s first roster, alongside legends Maria Tallchief, Melissa Hayden, Tanaquil LeClercq and Patricia Wilde.

Among Mounsey’s achievements was her Siren in Balanchine’s “Prodigal Son,” a technically challenging vixen role at which she excelled. The Los Angeles Times told the story of Mounsey’s videotaped coaching of a young ballerina in this role for the Balanchine Foundation’s Interpreters Archive Program in 2008.

Mounsey co-founded Johannesburg City Ballet, now PACT Ballet Company, in 1960. Emigrating to Los Angeles with her husband, the late Kelvin Klegg, and daughter Allegra, she co-founded Westside School of Ballet and its performance arm, Westside Ballet Company, in 1967.  Mounsey’s legacy is the hundreds of Los Angeles children she trained who went on to strong ballet careers. Among them are Melissa Barak, now with Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company, Andrew Veyette and Tiler Peck, both New York City Ballet principal dancers, and Anna Liceica, with American Ballet Theater.

-- Debra Levine

Above: Yvonne Mounsey with Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. Credit: Los Angeles County

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