Terry de Mari, 1928-2015

15 Feb

One-time member of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo,long-time dancer in noted American musicals, Terry de Mari died February 10 in his native Omaha, Nebraska from cancer. He had just celebrated his 87th birthday.

Born to Sicilian parents, de Mari was a high school athlete when encouraged to study dance. After local studies, he moved to New York City where he studied with Martha Graham and at the School of American Ballet. Dancing under his mother’s maiden name, de Mari worked first in muscials before auditoning and joining the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1954; he was promptly cast in a major character role by Leonide Massine when Massine created a ballet to the music of Harold in Italy.

In 1957 de Mari joined the touring company of My Fair Lady, remaining with it through 1960 when the troupe appeared in Russia, dancing in Moscow, and Kiev. While in Moscow, Francis Gary Powers was shot down in his U2 while flying over Russia. and captured by Soviet forces.

With tensions at a height, the planned appearance in Odessa was cancelled, but the company did dance in Leningrad where they watched a Bolshoi Ballet performance of Don Quixote. The following day,Rudolph Nureyev apparently invited the dancers to lunch where he quizzed them regarding the United States. A year later Nureyev defected at Orly Airport.

De Mari’s credits in musical theatre included productions of Brigadoon, Oklahoma, Kiss Me Kate,Paint Your Wagon,Call Me Madam, Wonderful Town, Peter Pan, Damned Yankees, Camelot. He served as dance director for three productions of Hello Dolly when the featured performers were Carol Channing, Eve Arden, Ginger Rogers and Dorothy Lamour. De Mari was particularly responsible for coaching Lamour in Las Vegas when she alternated performances with Ginger Rogers. When Lamour was ready to tour with the production, de Mari was responsible for auditioning and hiring the singers and dancers for
Lamour’s production and also lead to a long friendship.

During his career de Mari worked with Gower Champion, Jack Cole, Hanya Holm, Gemze de Lappe, and his associates included Brian Ahern, Jane Powell, Alice Faye, Phil Silvers, Howard Keel.

My first and only direct contact with de Mari was during the initial inspection of facilities in preparation for the 2000 Ballets Russes Celebration, which formed the cornerstone for the Geller-Goldfine documentary Ballets Russes; The production debuted at Sundance Film Festival and wasnominated for an award. The New York Times considered it one of the best documentaries that year.

Terry provided the information clearing center for the Ballets Russes alumni; the site preparation and arrangements were in the hands of Olga Guardia de Smoak, president of the New Orleans International Ballet Conference. The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities partially subsidized the conference.

Terry de Mari was perhaps five feet six inches, physically fit as one would expect, and completely present during the preparations and the celebration itself. He and his colleagues produced two monographs of dancers’ memories, Reminiscences I and II, for Ballet Russes dancers and lovers.

Terry continued to provide me with information, particularly the winnowing of Ballet Russes dancers, names which joined the In Memoriam list at the annual Isadora Duncan Dance Award Ceremony in San Francisco.

Thinking of Terry, I realize his level-headed approach was singulaar. Capable of great emotion and excitement, Terry also conveyed his personal understanding and importance as a link, the information locus to whom everyone turned, a role he never shirked and admirably filled. Not only will I miss his unflagging source of news, but very much the knowledge of his awareness of that important task, keeping people in touch.

Blessings on your soul, Terry. I shall miss our contacts, but value the style with which you served dance with such competence.


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