Nicholas Orloff; Dancer, Teacher


Noted Russian American character dancer and teacher Nicholas Orloff died Tuesday in Valley Cottage, N.Y. He was 86.

Orloff was born in Moscow in 1914 and studied in Paris with such renowned teachers as Olga Preobrajenska and Victor Gsovsky. Orloff joined the prestigious Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1938 and the rival Original Ballet Russe in 1939, creating the showpiece role of the Drummer Boy in David Lichine’s “Graduation Ball” the following year.

He danced with Ballet Theatre (which later became American Ballet Theatre) from 1941 to 1950 and afterward rejoined the company for a season or two at a time through 1959, also appearing with troupes in Europe during the same period.

His most celebrated role was Petrushka in Mikhail Fokine’s one-act dance drama of that name, but he also earned acclaim in “Giselle,” Antony Tudor’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Fokine’s “Bluebeard” and other repertory.

“This season Orloff’s unfailing elegance has seemed to me very striking,” wrote New York Herald Tribune dance critic Edwin Denby in a summing up of Ballet Theatre’s 1945 performances.


Away from the ballet stage, Orloff danced opposite Violette Verdy in the French film “Dream Ballerina” in 1950 and appeared on Broadway in the 1955 revival of “On Your Toes” and in the original cast of “Pipe Dream” later that year. He then served as director of the Norwegian Opera Ballet in 1960-61 and ballet master of the Denver Civic Ballet in the mid-1970s.

But he always remained active as a teacher, even after suffering a stroke three years ago.

He married dancer and teacher Nina Popova, but that union ended in divorce.