ballerina, choreographer, ballet director
July 22, 1918 - January 04, 2003
Lila Zali (born Elisaveta (Lilya) Borisovna Zalipskaya) was an American prima ballerina and later ballet director, who founded the Ballet Pacifica in Orange County, California, and for many years served as its choreographer and artistic director.
Lila Zali Levienne – The Georgian Gem
Lila Zali Lila Zali (Elizaveta or Lilya Borisovna Zalipskaya) was born to the family of an opera tenor in Tbilisi, less than a month after her country declared independence from the Russian empire on May 26, 1918, and became the Georgian Democratic Republic. In 1922, after the end of the Civil war and the occupation of Georgia by the Soviets, her parents took the girl with them to America, settling in Washington, D.C. By that time, her motherland had already been subsumed into the USSR.
Despite starting her ballet training at a relatively old age – she graduated from the School of American Ballet in 1938, already 20 years old – she caught up quickly and became a soloist for Mikhail Mordkin's ballet company, the not-very-successful precursor of the legendary American Ballet Theatre.
Later she was invited to dance for Colonel de Basil's Ballets Russes, but, unfortunately, was forced to leave behind the prospects of succeeding in the famous company when her mother refused to give her permission to tour in South America...
After the World War II, Zali moved to Hollywood, California, to the center of the emerging television industry, and performed regularly on the CBS television show Balleretta and on the Colgate Comedy Hour. Lila was featured in several musical movies, including Limelight, Anything Goes and Silk Stockings. In addition, she was the dance double for Leslie Caron in the classical film Gigi, Gaby and An American in Paris.
In 1945 Zali married the cellist Nicholas (Nikolai) Levienne, with whom she had worked on television. It was Nicholas who founded a local music club, which would later become the Laguna Beach Chamber Music Society.
Although mainly active in the new mass media, Zali never forgot her original calling, and continued stage performances, dancing as prima ballerina for the Los Angeles City Ballet and also the Coronet Ballet.
Lila became an instructor at the Los Angeles dance studios of Adolph Bolm and later Michel Panaieff, two well known Russian-American choreographers and dancers. One of her most prominent students at the studios was the young ballerina Cynthia Gregory.
With age came experience, and, after moving to Laguna Beach, California, Zali established the Laguna Beach Civic Ballet dance company, now known as the Ballet Pacifica. A statement to her dedication to the cause of popularizing ballet, she served without salary as the director and choreographer of the company...
...Even more, after retiring, she choose a successor, but continued as the company's artistic advisor and active teacher, training new talents until her death at the age of 84!
Zali was also remembered as a very active member of America's dancing community, serving on the board of directors of Regional Dance America, previously the National Association of Regional Ballet.
Morgan, Lael (July 23, 1969). "Behind the Success: Lila Zali". Los Angeles Times
"From Plans to Pointes, Lila Zali Has Led Ballet Pacifica for 25 Years". Los Angeles Times - Curtis, Cathy (November 14, 1987)
"A Swan Remembered". Laguna Beach Independent. (March 21, 2012)
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