Paul Szilard, 100, Impresario Of Ballet and Modern Dance
Published: August 4, 2013
Paul Szilard, a Hungarian-born dancer who went from managing a bar in Manila to managing international tours for major dance companies, notably the Alvin Ailey troupe, died on July 26 at his home in Manhattan. He was 100.
Stan Honda/Agence France-Presse—Getty Images
His death was confirmed by his press representative, Kevin P. McAnarney.
Mr. Szilard had a 40-year association with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, booking performances for it around the world. He maintained a close relationship with both the company’s dancers and its first two directors, Ailey and Judith Jamison, who succeeded Ailey after his death in 1989.
Colorful in his opinions, Mr. Szilard also advanced valuable advice to his clients. He suggested that Ailey choreograph “Pas de Duke,” a pas de deux to Duke Ellington’s music, in 1976 for Ms. Jamison and Mikhail Baryshnikov, who had recently left the Soviet Union. It was a sensational pairing of a Russian ballet star and a star of American modern dance.
“Who else would have thought of that?,” Ms. Jamison wrote of Mr. Szilard in a foreword to his 2002 memoir, “Under My Wings,” written with Howard Kaplan.
Mr. Szilard was also a personal agent for Ms. Jamison and various ballet stars, negotiating contracts and creating galas and concerts for them abroad. Among his clients was Violette Verdy, the New York City Ballet ballerina who was a child prodigy when he met her in a ballet class in Paris before World War II.
Mr. Szilard did not fit the traditional mold of a top-hatted impresario. But he called himself one in the subtitle of his memoir — “My Life as an Impresario” — and described himself as such when he produced an attraction and took financial responsibility for it. Sometimes, however, he acted as an agent or middleman, as he did when he negotiated New York City Ballet’s tour, underwritten by the State Department, to Asia and Australia in 1958.
In recent years, he represented the Martha Graham Dance Company in the United States and joined the company’s board. Mostly, however, he worked with American companies, including American Ballet Theater, abroad and was involved occasionally with foreign troupes, like the Dancers of Bali, that were performing in the United States.
Paul Szilard was born in Budapest on Aug. 24, 1912, the son of a stockbroker who expected his son to follow in his footsteps. But after studying ballet in Budapest and touring with his teacher’s troupe, he moved to Paris. He trained there with the legendary émigré teachers Olga Preobrajenska and Roussane Sarkissian and in London with Stanislas Idzikowski.
Never a member of a major ballet company, he formed his own concert dance group and was its choreographer. In 1939 he met Ariane Pulver, a Swiss modern dancer, whom he married and who became his dance partner. She died in 2004. No immediate family members survive.
After World War II began, the couple went to New York, but Mr. Szilard chose to dance for a company in China. En route, they stayed in Manila, and they were stranded there for four years.
Mr. Szilard taught ballet under the Japanese occupation and staged concerts. When American troops returned, an officer asked him to open an officers’ club with a bar. He named it the Blue Elephant. He was also asked to organize a gala to celebrate Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s triumphant return to the Philippines.
Mr. Szilard required ballet shoes for the event but was stupefied when hundreds arrived. As he recalled in his memoir, his officer explained: “This is the Army. You can’t expect me to order one pair of shoes.”
Returning to New York, Mr. Szilard taught ballet and in 1953 was invited as a guest artist with the Komaki Ballet in Japan. He in turn asked the American ballerina Nora Kaye to be his partner. The next year he formed his own company to tour Japan and featured the French stars Colette Marchand and Milorad Miskovitch.
Ending his dancing days, he opened his production office in 1954. He produced the first Japanese tour of an English-language production of “West Side Story” and helped produce the musical again in Paris in 2007.
Ms. Jamison said, “Paul has had so much to do with creating arenas for other people to shine in.”