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  • Writer's pictureKristyn Burtt

Hungarian Ballet Star Istvan Rabovsky Paved the Way For Eastern Bloc Dancers

The dance world lost a legend on Aug. 18 and it's a legacy that should not be forgotten. Hungarian ballet dancer Istvan Rabovsky died at the age of 90 in Manhattan.

He and his first wife, Nora Kovach, who died in 2009, made history when they became the first major dancers to defect from the Communist bloc. While dancing with the Budapest State Opera, the duo disappeared while on tour in East Berlin, Germany in 1953. They boarded a subway train and escaped to West Berlin.

Their defection paved the way for future dance superstars like Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Their athletic style ushered in a new generation of ballet to Western audiences. It can be seen in the 1954 French film, Dance To Freedom.

The couple's incredible story took another historical turn when they were rescued from the Italian ship, the Andria Doria, in 1956. The liner collided with the Swedish ship, the Stockholm, near Nantucket, Massachusetts.

They eventually settled in the United States and continued to perform together even after their divorce in 1962. They performed their work everywhere from Radio City Music Hall to The Ed Sullivan Show.

His daughter, Emese Camanelli, shared some memories of her father exclusively with Dance Dish.

My father, Istvan Rabovsky and mother, Maria Luisa Bouchardet, taught dance together for 19 years. They had me along with three grandchildren: Michael, Mathew, and Christopher Camanelli.

Dad danced for the Kirov Ballet and Bolshoi ballet and he guested all over the world dancing with his first partner, Nora Kovach.

A Paris newspaper introduced him with the line, ‘Napoleon conquers Paris again.'

After touring professionally, my father and mother, Maria Bouchardet, ran five ballet schools together for 19 years, including the Rabovsky Ballet Camp in the Catskills, where they trained ballet dancers from all over the world.

The movie and book, 'Leap Through the Iron Curtain,' written about his life are a testament to the legacy he leaves behind as a dancer, performer and man.


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