Dwight Grell, 6/7/1937- 2/3/2015

3 Mar


The Los Angeles Times
printed Dwight Grell’s obituary March 2, 2015. David Colker did a good job summarizing the outline of Dwight’s passion for Russian Ballet, accurate and anecdotal.

But the skein of association and the times when Dwight stumbled upon his
passion, thanks to the 1959 West Coast tour of the Bolshoi Ballet under Sol Hurok’s auspices lingers for those of us who knew him in varying shades of
intimacy.

I first met Dwight during the 1986 USA IBC Competition in Jackson when Sophia Golovina was one of the master teachers in the International Ballet School, Yuri Grigorovitch the Russian Juror and Robert Joffrey the Jury Chair.Two Russian competitors were Nina Ananiashvili and Andris Liepa. These two young dancers shared the Jackson Grand Prix, the first of only three awarded in the Competition. The second was Jose Manuel Carreno in 1990 and Johann Kobborg in 1994.

Dwight Grell, slender to gaunt because of Chrone’s disease, was there with Todd Lechtik, a short, energetic young photographer whose working hours were spent with a UCLA medical clinic. Todd had taken pictures of the exhibits that Dwight assembled when either the Bolshoi or the Kirov hove into view and he soon became the Archives’ official photographer. Todd said Dwight would go to the flower mart at 4 a.m. to select the flowers to throw on the stage, red and gold streamers for the Bolshoi, blue and white ribbons for the Kirov.

Todd said Dwight would instruct him when to send a bouquet sailing across the orchestra pit. In the beginning, the venue was the Shrine Auditorium which had basketball marks on the floor. The physical anomaly must have made those floral tributes that much more welcome.

Dwight’s genius were the gestures, the smallnesses making a dancer smile, to feel cherished. The flowers, his ability to be around to turn pages for the pianist, to run errands, and in return toe shoes ready for the discard became part of a rapidly growing cache of memorabilia

Todd’s skill as a photographer and as a ballet student with Yvonne Mounsey proved invaluable to Dwight’s Archives.

Mounsey danced in Colonel de Basil’s Original Ballets Russes on its final 1946-47 U.S. tour. When George Balanchine revived The Prodigal Son for New York City Ballet, Mounsey danced The Siren..

“We roomed together in Jackson, in London, in Moscow. Word got around about Dwight’s interest and once he was offered 100 postcards on ballet outside the Bolshoi.”

When I was assisting Olga Guardia de Smoak in organizing for the Ballets Russes Celebraton in New Orleans in 2000, Dwight arrived bearing a large, oblong package which revealed an ornate gilded frame. Inside was the ballet program performed at the Bolshoi celebrating the coronation of Nicholas II in Moscow.

If my memory is accurate, one of the principals was Mathilde
Kessinskaya, one time lover of that last Romanov emperor. It gave me a flutter, along with one or two volumes Olga identified. “Those are the year books which Sergei Diaghilev compiled.”

In 2003 Dwight’s balletic treasure were donated to USC, where not only is it a record of a devoted balletomane, but it also reflects Russian ballet history in the mid-late twentieth century.

A year or two later, Dwight joined Pomona College friends, Irene Nevil, Ina Nuell Bliss, and me for lunch. When it was over, Harry Major said,, “ His work should be featured on California Gold.” I am not sure that ever happened, still, there was no doubt that Dwight Grell was himself a treasure.

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