NEW YORK (AP) — Former New York City Ballet star Sean Lavery, whose dancing career was cut short when he was diagnosed with a spinal tumor, has died at age 61.
Lavery, who was one of the company’s most prolific male dancers until he was forced to stop dancing in the late ’80s at age 30, went on to serve the company as ballet master, coach and administrator for more than two decades, also serving as a right-hand man to NYCB head Peter Martins. He retired in 2011.
Lavery died on Monday in Palm Springs, California, after a brief illness, said his sister, Anne Alsedek. “He had been ill a short time,” she said. “It happened quickly and peacefully.”
As a dancer, Lavery originated or starred in roles from a wide swath of the company’s repertoire, especially in works by George Balanchine (“Apollo,” ”Concerto Barocco,” ”Jewels,” and “Symphony in C,” among others) or Jerome Robbins (“Afternoon of a Faun,” ”Dances at a Gathering,” ”Other Dances.”)
“His size, his proportions, are quite wonderful,” Robbins told the New York Times in 1987. “He has a very elegant line, but it is a very human line.” He called Lavery “tireless and without fear.”
Sidelined by his devastating diagnosis, Lavery went through surgery and rehabilitation and then returned to the company, not as a dancer but as a teacher and administrator. Among his duties: teaching company class, staging ballets, and putting together the season’s performing schedule.
Lavery was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he studied at the Pennsylvania Ballet School. In 1973, he joined the San Francisco Ballet, and in 1975 the Frankfurt Opera Ballet, where he was a principal dancer.
The next year, Lavery began studying at the School of American Ballet, the official school of New York City Ballet, and joined the company in 1977. He was promoted to soloist and then principal dancer in 1978, a position he held for nearly a decade before his diagnosis.
Lavery’s longtime City Ballet boss, Martins, retired in January under scrutiny for alleged sexual harassment and other misconduct while at the company. In February, a two-month independent investigation ended with a statement saying the accusations were not corroborated.
In a larger article on Martins, the Times reported in January that a ballet corps dancer had received a payment as part of a confidential agreement after reporting inappropriate behavior by Lavery. Neither Lavery nor the dancer commented on the report at the time. Lavery’s sister, Alsedek, said she had not discussed it with him and was not aware of his reaction to the report.
“We’re very proud of him,” she said. “We loved to watch him dance, and we’ll miss him.” She added that it was Lavery’s sense of humor, along with his humility, that stood out to her.
“He would make us all laugh hysterically,” she said. “That’s what we’ll miss the most.”