IGOR IVANOVYCH YOUSKEVITCH was a founder of and the first soloist of the National Ballet of Cuba, the lead artist of the American Ballet Theater, a performer of one of the leading roles in the Hollywood fi lm “Invitation to the Dance”, which won the Berlin Film Festival in 1956, and the founder of his own stage school.


At the age of eight, this future world ballet star moved with his parents out of Pyryatin (Poltava region) to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. It was 1920. Soon the young man became interested in gymnastics and quickly reached remarkable athletic heights.

He was noticed at the tournament by the famous Yugoslav ballerina Zenia Grunt who encouraged him to take up stage dancing. The boy agreed and did not regret it. Not only did he notably perform on the stages of France, but also received an official invitation to the Paris Opera Ballet company and toured with them for a year (1936-1937) in Australia and New Zealand.

Then there were the triumphs of the Le Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (1938-1944), and the American Ballet Theater, where in 1946 Youskevitch became a leading dancer and one of the finest representatives of the romantic ballet era. People were falling in love with him and worshiping him.

The very popularity of Igor Ivanovych gave the maximum impetus to the development of ballet in the United States. Sometimes, this type of art outshone baseball which is by far the most popular entertainment feature of Americans. There was a ballet boom in the country. In 1955, Igor became an artistic consultant to many theaters, the Metropolitan Opera included.


The duo of Igor Yushkevich and Alicia Alonso, with whom he took an active part in the formation of the Cuban ballet, was called legendary. They toured North and South America, with regular appearances in movies and TV shows. According to experts, maybe only Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev could have been nearly as popular as Youskevitch and Alonso. But that was later.

Even after finishing his stage career in 1962, the artist did not say “adios” to his life’s work. Together with his wife, ballerina Anna Scarpova, he opened his own ballet school in New York, and in a few more years he became a director of the ballet program at the University of Texas at Austin, as well as the artistic director of the New York International Ballet Competition (NYIBC).

In a duet with Alicia Alonso, Igor Youskevitch became the star of world ballet.


When the Oscar-winning actor, director, screenwriter, producer, choreographer and singer, Gene Kelly was asked, “What brought you to the movies?” He replied, “A dream to shoot something out of the ordinary, like ‘Invitation to the Dance.’” He is referring to his film without words which came out in 1956. A kind of musical miniseries, the dance film consisted of three short stories: “Circus”, “Ring Around the Rosy,” and “Sinbad the Sailor”.

A Piryatin-born dancer starred in the first, the most striking one. The plot is about a classic tragic love triangle: Kelly plays a clown, who is in love with another circus performer, and she is in First and foremost, viewers and professionals were impressed with Youskevitch’s unique style of athletic beauty, sophistication, and elegance. It was he who set the standards for men’s dance. One of the admirers of Youskevitch’s talent later confessed: “He who did not know that he was a former dancer could well have thought that he was a retired matador.”


- He became a citizen of the US in 1944 and volunteered for the US Navy, where he “smelled Japanese gunpowder” for two years in a row.

- After 34 months of marine service, Igor Youskevitch was overweight and physically unable to dance. In such cases, many announce the end of their careers, but the Ukrainian decided to keep it and was not disappointed: his best years were still ahead.

- The ballet “Giselle” performed by Igor Youskevitch and the famous Cuban dancer Alicia Alonso is still considered one of the best of all time.

- In an article published in “The Times” in 1982, the maestro criticized his male colleagues for “cheap theatrical effects” and “the indifferent, and sometimes not polite, treatment of female partners.”

- Youskevitch’s daughter Maria was a soloist at the Ballet Theatre of Maryland and then a teacher at Princeton Ballet School.

- He had two favorite hobbies: gymnastics in youth, and fishing in adulthood.


- Youskevitch was born on March 13, 1912 in Pyryatin, Poltava region.

 - He graduated from the Russian-Serbian High School at Belgrade Royal University.

- He performed almost 100 roles in productions, including “Giselle”, “The Nutcracker”, “The Afternoon of a Faun”, “Le Rouge et le Noir”, “Le Carnaval”, “Port Said”, ‘The Black Swan”, “A Streetcar Named Desire”, “Romeo and Juliet”.

- He was an award winner: Dance Magazine (1958), Capezio Dance (1991), Premio del Gran Teatro de La Habana (1993).
- He was a professor emeritus of theater and dance at the University of Texas at Austin.

- He died of heart failure on June 13, 1994 and was buried in East Ridgelawn Cemetery, Clifton, New Jersey, USA.

APHORISM ON THE TOPIC : “Dancers are the athletes of God”. - Albert Einstein

Love with a trapeze artist, whose role is played by Igor Youskevitch. He performed brilliantly, reaffirming his status as the “Outstanding Contemporary Power-Ballet Artist.” That is why Kelly invited him to dance in the film and chose him from dozens of applicants.

Eight years before this, this talented Ukrainian starred in a movie made by the psychological ballet creator and a devoted Zen Buddhist Antony Tudor. This was “Shadow of the Wind” (1948). According to experts, this role also influenced the later choice of Gene Kelly. In total, Youskevitch starred in four Hollywood films.

Igor Youskevitch, Master of Classical Ballet Style, Dies at 82 - The New York Times.



This article by Nadiia Avramchuk and Mykola Sukhomozsky is reprinted with the publisher's permission from the book (UN)Celebrated Ukrainians Who Changed the Course of History, SAMIT-KNYHA, Kyiv, 2020. 

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