Death of the first ballerina to dance Juliet

Ballet’s first Juliet, Zora Semberova, has died at the age of 99.

Her daughter, Pamela St Clair-Johnson, said she passed away peacefully in Adelaide in the early hours of October 9.

Semberova was the first ballerina to dance the role of Juliet to Prokofiev’s score, in the 1930s, in Czechoslovakia, her homeland.

She had hoped to visit Prague for her centenary celebrations in March 2013.

In May this year, Semberova attended a performance of Graeme Murphy’s Romeo & Juliet, performed by the Australian Ballet in Adelaide where she was photographed with the company’s artistic director, David McAllister.

Semberova, born in Vyskov, Moravia in 1913, began her training at the age of nine. At 17, she moved to Paris to train with Olga Preobrajenska before returning to Brno as a soloist at the State Theatre.

In 1938, she was asked to dance the role of Juliet in Romeo & Juliet by Ivo Vana-Psota, artistic director of the Brno Ballet.

Prokofiev’s score had been commissioned in 1935 by the Bolshoi Theatre, but was shelved for multiple reasons. Not only was the score considered undanceable, but also the authorities disapproved of Prokofiev’s proposed happy ending to the tale, and Prokofiev himself was not in favour with the newly formed Committee on Arts Affairs that enforced ideological policy.

Semberova danced only eight performances before the Germans occupied her country in March 1939 and banned Russian works from the repertoire.

In January 1940, Romeo & Juliet was taken into the repertoire of the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad with choreography by Leonid Lavrosky and Galina Ulanova as Juliet.

Semberova’s first husband was a surgeon, Dr Vaclav Holub, but they divorced and Semberova married a German academic, Rainer Radok, who had taught in Europe and who became foundation professor of applied mathematics in 1966 at Flinders University.

In 1968 she flew to Adelaide to be with him and she soon took up a position at the university teaching movement to actors.

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