Dame Sonia Arova, world renowned ballerina, knighted by King Olav of Norway, frequent partner of Rudolf Nureyev and Erik Bruhn, won first prize in an international competition at the age of 12. As an acclaimed instructor, dancer and director, she was known for her willingness to take chances when they arose. With her great technical strength, she performed as a bravura dancer of attack and spirit. Her feminine personality and allure was unambiguous. She could seize a dramatic role and fill it with her own theatricality. Sonia Arova’s long and distinguished career began with her training at the Sofia Opera’s School of Ballet. By age 8, Sonia Arova was selected to study dance in Paris with former Maryinsky ballerina, Olga Preobrajenska and Diaghilev’s last male star, Serge Lifar.
When the Germans invaded France, she escaped to England disguised as her piano teacher’s son. After four years of constant touring with Mona Iglesby’s International Ballet, she joined Ballet Rambert in 1946, dancing principal roles in Les Sylphides, Swan Lake, Act II, and as the Russian ballerina in Tudor’s Gala Performance receiving praise from Artistic Director Rambert as unsurpassed in her dancing and comedic interpretation. Moving to the newly formed Metropolitan Ballet in 1947, Sonia Arova’s principal roles included the rewarding 'Design for Strings' by John Taras and work with a new partner, Erik Bruhn from Copenhagen.
Sonia Arova’s freelance career took her throughout Europe and America and as far as Japan and Australia. She was the first western ballerina to perform in Japan since Anna Pavlova and was guest ballerina for the gala opening of The Australian Ballet. Recognized for her classical work, she also performed in new ballets created for her by Ruth Page. Working with Ballet de Champs Elysées, London Festival Ballet and Page’s Chicago Opera Ballet, she was well known for her role as Azucena in Page’s 'Revenge' (based on 'Il Trovatore'), and the lead role in 'Merry Widow', 'Carmen', 'Camille' and in the lighthearted Impromptu au Bois.
She performed as guest ballerina with other major companies such as American Ballet Theatre (Helen of Troy, Mam’zelle Angot, Pas de Deesses), The Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas, Original Ballet Russe, The Australian Ballet, National Ballet of Canada and The Washington Ballet in Sylvia Pas de Deux coached by George Balanchine. In the early 1960’s, Anton Dolin extended an invitation to her, along with Rudolf Nureyev, who had just arrived in the West, Erik Bruhn and Rosella Hightower to perform duets in concert programs. The quartet then formed their own concert group, performing new and established works in Cannes and Paris to sold out houses. With Nureyev, she performed as the first guest ballerina with The Royal Ballet (Swan Lake, Don Quixote Pas de Deux) and as his partner for his 1962 American debut at New York and Chicago.
Dame Sonia’s directorships included the Norwegian National Ballet (Den Norske Opera) where she received the equivalent to knighthood by King Olav V of Norway and Hamburg State Opera Ballet. She then co-directed the San Diego Ballet with husband and choreographer, Thor Sutowski. In 1976, they moved to Birmingham, Alabama to develop the dance program at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. She and Sutowski were asked to direct the new State of Alabama Ballet/Ballet South (1981-1996). Well known for their collaboration and unique ability to coach young dancers, they were recognized by Mikhail Baryshnikov who named the Alabama School of Fine Arts Dance Program as one of the three best schools in the country for the training of young dancers. (New York Times, 1985) Retired from her positions in Alabama, Dame Sonia served the California Ballet in the capacity of Artistic Advisor, teaching company classes, conducting rehearsals and coaching special sessions with Principal Dancers.
Many accolades and credit have been given to her work as a ballerina, master teacher, artistic director, coach and mentor. In 2006, a new ballet company AROVA Contemporary Ballet formed in Birmingham, Alabama as a tribute to her inspiration and legacy.
Dame Sonia Arova passed away in California on February 4, 2001.
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