Ivan and Marilyn: a long, loving dance partnership linking Hungary with Australia

Ivan Nagy, a former principal with American Ballet Theatre and husband of the Australian dancer, Marilyn Burr, has died in Budapest aged 70.

The couple had lived in the village of Valldemossa, in Majorca, Spain, for the last 30 years but worked with ballet companies around the world.

In their early careers they travelled far from their homelands, with Nagy, a Hungarian, ultimately meeting Burr, an Australian, in the United States.

Burr, born in Parramatta, Sydney, in 1933, was already on the stage at 11 months old. Not that she’d remember that.

In an interview with The Australian Women’s Weekly in 1971, her mother, the dance teacher, May Hancock, who had married Mervyn Burr, said their daughter she appeared as a teddy bear in Mrs Burr’s school concert of 1934.

“That day she walked for the first time”, May said. “She had never taken a step before, but when the two bigger teddy bears let go her hands she just walked. I knew then she was meant to be on stage”.

Now that’s the ultimate ballet mother speaking!

Marilyn Burr told the magazine that “mother always wanted me to be a dancer. She loved everything to do with the theatre. And I wanted to do practically everything else but dance”.

But she did become a professional dancer, first with the National Ballet Company in Australia before she sailed to London where she became a soloist with the London Festival Ballet in 1952. Promoted to the rank of principal the following year, she remained with the company for a decade.

Nagy was born in Hungary in 1943, won a scholarship to the Budapest State Ballet Institute and after graduating, joined the Budapest State Opera in 1960.

Five years later he won a bronze medal at the Varna ballet competition. One of the judges, Frederic Franklin, asked him dance as a guest with the National Ballet of Washington, DC in 1965, not long before Burr joined the same company

At that time Burr had been married twice. I don’t know the name of her first husband but her second was the French dancer, Jean Paul Comelin, also dancer with the Festival Ballet.

Burr and Comelin guested with the Australian Ballet in 1966 when they danced in Raymonda.

Their marriage was short lived.

In that 1971 interview with The Australian Women’s Weekly, Burr said she had been married three times within 11 years and, her mother added, she had now “found the love of her life – Ivan”.

Ivan Nagy’s dancing career reached its peak as a principal at American Ballet Theatre where he was known and much admired in Swan Lake, Giselle and Les Sylphides but also as a wonderful partner to such ballerinas as Margot Fonteyn, Natalia Makarova, Cynthia Gregory, Carla Fracci and Gelsey Kirkland.

After he retired aged 35, he and Burr moved to Santiago where he was the artistic director of the Ballet de Santiago from 1982 to 1986, then artistic director of the Cincinnati Ballet for three years and then artistic director of the English National Ballet (1990-93).

After ENB he returned to Ballet de Santiago where he remained until early 2000.

The New York Times has reported that he and his wife had been working during the past year as artistic adviser to the Hungarian State Opera House Ballet and were to stage a new production of La Sylphide on May 23.

Their daughter Aniko, told the Times that Nagy had felt unwell after a flight from Majorca on Friday and was visiting a cousin in Budapest for lunch when he died suddenly.

He is survived by Marilyn Burr and his daughters, Tatjana Haper who lives in Texas and the daughter he had with Burr, Aniko Nagy who lives in London.

6 Comments

  1. Maria carolina munizaga CBTS. RAD
    Posted March 1, 2014 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Ivan was a great, but for me was a most important inspiration in my life – incredible artist and man.

  2. Dianne Takahashi
    Posted March 2, 2014 at 2:36 am | Permalink

    Ivan Nagy was a most beautiful dancer, whose performances will always live in my memory. My heart goes out to Marilyn Burr and to his daughter. It is wonderful to know that he was able to work in ballet until the end of his life, and that he and Marilyn – a heroine and inspiration of mine as a girl, living along the Great Western Highway, west of her old home – were still working together. What fabulous careers! Along with ballet-lovers all over the world, I am grateful for their dedication to their life-enhancing art.

  3. valerie
    Posted March 2, 2014 at 4:32 am | Permalink

    Dianne and Maria, many thanks for your memories and heartfelt thoughts about these great artists.

  4. shirley bernard nee wehrstedt
    Posted June 5, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    I am sorry to learn that Ivan Nagy has passed away so suddenly. Marilyn and I attended school together and we were friends. My sympathy goes to Marilyn and family. i have always followed their careers and I am a great ballet lover.

  5. Don Ryan
    Posted January 7, 2015 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    Marilyn’s Grandmother and my Great Grandmother where sisters

  6. Frank Poole
    Posted May 15, 2015 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Marilyn, your name just popped out on my iPad. I learnt dancing with your mother Cissy at the Wentworthville School of Arts many years ago. Wendy was in the same group and was my first date; we went to the Wenty Saturday pictures matinee with the rising organ and the bouncing balls. Very sorry to read that you had lost your husband, it must be a great loss.
    Anyway, if you ever come to Canberra look Val and me up and have dinner or a coffee.

    Fond memories

    Frank Poole

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Ivan Nagy, photo ©  Renate Pentzien

Ivan Nagy, photo © Renate Pentzien

Ivan Nagy, Cincinnati Ballet artistic director, 1980s

Ivan Nagy, Cincinnati Ballet artistic director, 1980s

Natalia Makarova and Ivan Nagy, Swan Lake, photo © Max Waldman

Natalia Makarova and Ivan Nagy, Swan Lake, photo © Max Waldman

Marilyn Burr, Raymonda, Australian Ballet, 1966, photo © Walter Stringer, National Library of Australia

Marilyn Burr, Raymonda, Australian Ballet, 1966, photo © Walter Stringer, National Library of Australia

Ivan Nagy and Marilyn Burr, photographer unknown

Ivan Nagy and Marilyn Burr, photographer unknown