Profile: John Taras is a native of New York City, born on the lower East Side to Ukrainian parents. He first studied ballet under Michel Fokine and later at the School of American Ballet.
The Early Years: His first professional engagement was in an opera company called Opera on Tour for which Fokine arranged the dances. In 1940, Mr Taras performed at the New York World’s Fair at the Ford pavilion with Ballet Caravan. In 1941 he joined Catherine Littlefield’s Philadelphia Ballet for a tour of the southern states and in a production in New York of J.M. Barrie’s A Kiss for Cinderella. After which he was engaged for the Lincoln Kirstein-George Balanchine American Ballet Caravan tour of South America.
Famous Works: From 1942 to 1946, Mr Taras danced with Ballet Theatre, rising to soloist status. In addition, he rehearsed the ballets of Lichine, De Mille, Nijinska, Balanchine and Tudor. In his final year with Ballet Theatre, he choreographed Graziana, his first ballet.
In 1946, after having danced for a season at the Chicago Civic Opera with the Markova-Dolin Company, he produced Camille for DeBasil’s Ballets Russes with Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin in the leading roles. In 1947 he produced The Minotaur for Ballet Society.
Mr Taras was principal dancer and regisseur for the ballets in the repertoire of DeBasil’s Company for their Covent Garden and Paris seasons in 1947. The next year he staged the Schumann Spring Symphony for the San Francisco Ballet and Designs with Strings – one of his most popular works – for the Metropolitan Ballet of London.
From 1948 to 1959, except for occasional leaves of absence, Mr Taras was choreographer and Ballet Master for the Grand Ballet Du Marquis De Cuevas, for which he choreographed eight ballets, among them his Piece De Lumiere, which he revived for New York City Ballet in 1964.
In 1959 Mr Taras was invited by Mr Balanchine to stage La Sonnambula in New York City. After this, he was associated with New York City Ballet as choreographer and Ballet Master until 1984. He served as Ballet Master to the Paris Opera Ballet in 1969-70; and as Artistic Director of the Deutsche Oper Ballet in West Berlin from 1970 to 1972.
He also staged Le Sacre Du Printemps for La Scala in Milan with Natalia Makarova. With the New York City Ballet he choreographed many works; Concerto For Piano and Winds, Scenes De Ballet, Song of the Nightingale and Persiphone for the Stravinsky Festivals and Daphnis and Chloe for the Ravel Festival in 1975 and Souvenir De Florence for the Tchaikovsky Festival in 1981.
Other Work: In addition to his duties teaching and rehearsing, Mr Taras has staged Mr Balanchine’s works for most of the major companies in the world. Mr Taras staged Sir Frederic Ashton’s ballet Illuminations for the Joffrey Ballet and for the Royal Ballet Covent Garden. In 1982 Mr Taras’ production of The Firebird for Dance Theatre of Harlem was seen on Live from Kennedy Center on PBS. In 1984 at the invitation of Mikhail Baryshnikov, Mr Taras joined American Ballet Theatre as Associate Director.
In 1988, in collaboration with Richard Buckle, he wrote a biography of George Balanchine, published by Random House. The first Balanchine ballet performed by the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow was produced in January, 1991 for the Centenary celebration of Serge Prokofiev, staged by Mr Taras.