Sonia Arova, a Bulgarian-born ballerina, teacher and company director with a long connection to dance in San Diego, has died. Arova, 73, died Feb. 4.
She was born Sonia Errio in Sofia on June 20, 1927, began her ballet training with the Opera Ballet there, and by the age of 6 had made her debut in the opera "Manon Lescaut." The company sent her to Paris for advanced study, and her teachers included such distinguished artists as Olga Preobrajenska and Serge Lifar.
She became a member of England's International Ballet in 1942, and four years later joined Ballet Rambert for two seasons. After that, she most often defined herself as an itinerant, freelance guest artist.
In the 1950s, she danced leading roles with such major international ensembles as the Ballet des Champs Elysees, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, the London Festival Ballet, Ruth Page's Chicago Opera Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre.
Her greatest fame, however, occurred in the 1960s, the decade in which she danced with Rudolf Nureyev on a number of occasions, including his American debut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and his first Royal Ballet "Swan Lake."
In the 1960s, she moved to Oslo to help form the Norwegian National Ballet and run it for five years--for which she was later knighted by King Olaf V. In 1965, she married American dancer Thor Sutowski.
In 1970, Arova confirmed her talent as an artistic director by running the Hamburg State Opera Ballet, and a year later she and Sutowski began a five-year directorship of the San Diego Ballet.
She later moved to Alabama to teach at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, and in 1981 began a 15-year stint as artistic director of the State of Alabama Ballet, with Sutowski serving as artistic associate and choreographer.
In 1996, the couple returned to San Diego, where their daughter Arianna lives, and Arova became artistic advisor to the California Ballet. In the 1990s, she also taught in Germany, Australia and numerous American cities, but San Diego remained her home base.