Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo dancer passes, aged 100

Betty Low, a Canadian-born dancer and actress who began her career with the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo and performed and taught in the US for 70 years, died on March 12, 2016 at her home in Annapolis, MD. She was 100.

Throughout her life Ms. Low pursued her twin loves of dance and drama. A scholarship to study ballet with Nicholas Legat drew the teenage Ms. Low from her birthplace in Ottawa, Ontario to London. Once there, she simultaneously pursued training in dance with Legat, and acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Discovered by both Sir Alexander Korda, who put her under contract, and choreographer Leonid Massine, a neighbor at the barre in one of Legat’s classes, Ms. Low devoted the early years of her career primarily to dance. During this period she was photographed several times by fellow Canadian Yousuf Karsh. A famous and prize-winning portrait from 1936 depicts her in a turban, actually just a curtain spontaneously torn down and repurposed by Karsh. In the photograph titled ‘The Lesson’, Ms. Low is seen on pointe, taking instruction from friend and fellow dancer Solange Gauthier Karsh, the photographer’s first wife.

The Lesson, 1940 & Betty Low, 1936 both by Yousuf Karsh / Courtesy of the Estate of Yousuf Karsh

From 1936 to 1943 Ms. Low toured the world performing with the Colonel W. de Basil's Ballets Russes and the Sergei Denham-Leonide Massine Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo under the Russianized stage name Ludmila Lvova, which she and Massine concocted. An admirer of the opera Ruslan and Ludmila, she chose her first name and Massine came up with her last name because Low was linguistically connected with Lion, which in Russian is approximated by Lvov. During this period Low/Lvova also had the chance to study with prima ballerina assoluta Mathilde Kschessinska in Paris and went on to appear in solo roles in Massine's Scuola di Ballo and Symphonie Fantastique.

When she left the Ballets Russes to have her son, Chistopher Anthony Pagent, Sr, Ms. Low was invited by choreographer Agnes de Mille, whom she had met in the company, to join the Broadway production of Bloomer Girl. For this, de Mille’s first work after Oklahoma! Low took a lead role, and was also rehearsal director. After taking part in the reviews Small Wonder and Lend an Ear, she concentrated on acting, appearing as Octavia in the 1947 Broadway production of Antony and Cleopatra, starring Katherine Cornell. The cast also included Charleton Heston, Maureen Stapleton, Eli Wallach and Tony Randall.

A veteran New Yorker, Ms. Low lived in the city from 1943 to 2012. During this time she had the privilege of working alongside a number of Broadway legends—Eva LeGallienne in The Royal Family, Shirley Booth and Melvyn Douglas in Juno, Denholm Elliott in Ring Around the Moon, and Rex Harrison in The Kingfisher and Aren't We All? She last appeared on Broadway in My Old Lady by Israel Horovitz. Ms. Low was in numerous off-Broadway productions at the Roundabout Theatre Company, and regional theater and festivals outside of New York, including Denver, Cleveland and Chapel Hill. She also did TV work, with hundreds of roles on a variety of shows, ranging from an early program featuring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca that later became Your Show of Shows, to Law and Order, as well as soap operas such as Studio One. Other appearances included narrating symphonic works at Lincoln Center and the Cincinnati Symphony, speaking at the National Gallery of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and National Portrait Gallery.

Betty Low was a dedicated educator, teaching at New York’s Finch College from 1953 to 1975, and in Vermont, where she had a summer home, and writing articles on dance and theater.

She is survived by grandson Christopher Pagent, Jr and his wife Kristen Pagent, daughter-in-law Ludmilla Pagent, and grandsons Constantine A. Pagent and Jacob A. Pagent.

By Anna Winestein

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