Vane Vest (1949-2003)

by Catherine Pawlick

March 24, 2003

Former San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Vane Vest passed away on January 8, 2003. He was 53 years old.

You may remember him as the tall, mysterious Herr Drosselmeyer, a black patch over one eye, gifting Clara with a wooden Nutcracker on Christmas Eve. You may have seen him lifting a ballerina with one arm, high above his head, effortlessly partnering her through a web of complex steps, incomparably smooth in all his movements and never missing a beat. Or perhaps you recall him pantomiming the character role of Widow Simone en travestie in "La Fille Mal Gardée," as the humorously protective mother trying to secure her "daughter’s" financial future.

Born in 1949 in Vienna, Austria to a father in the armed forces, Vest’s early years were spent studying in Denver, Colorado where he spent most of his childhood. He performed with the Denver Civic Ballet and Wisconsin Civic Ballet before moving to New York City after high school. While in New York, he studied with Igor Youskevitch before joining the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in 1968, where he remained for four years. He was married briefly to Youskevitch’s daughter, Maria Youskevitch, during his tenure at ABT.

Vest joined San Francisco Ballet in 1972, under the co-directorship of Lew Christensen and Michael Smuin, and was immediately recognized for his noble bearing and exceptional partnering talents. Michael Smuin remembers him as a consummate performer.

"Vane was an excellent partner, a terrific actor," says Michael. "It was a pleasure to work with him. He was an intelligent, musical dancer, which is every choreographer's dream. He created more new roles over a 12-year period than any other dancer in the company."

Some of those roles include the final pas de deux in "Songs of Mahler," the lead in Val Caniparoli's "Windows," the "Something" pas de deux in Smuin’s "To the Beatles," the pas de deux from "Eternal Idol", and roles in Smuin’s "Scherzo" and Betsy Erickson's "Bartok Quartet No. 5." Michael Smuin also choreographed the Neptune/Juno pas de deux from Act III of "The Tempest" for Vest and Lynda Meyer, which was recorded on film for the PBS series "Dance in America" in the early 1980s.

Meyer holds fond memories of their partnership.

"His goal was to present the ballerina in the best possible light," she says. As those who watched him can attest, he succeeded grandly at that.

"We had a number of ballets created on us and there was something special about his partnering, a nobility to it. He was a complex, sensitive person -- a young soul, but a deep soul. He contributed significantly to San Francisco Ballet's history and should certainly be recognized for that."

Gina Ness, one of his early partners at San Francisco Ballet, agrees.

"Lew (Christensen) also considered Vane one of his most important principal male dancers for many years. Vane was tall, handsome, and could play many different kinds of characters beautifully."

Indeed, Vest's tall, slim stature allowed him to dance cavalier roles with finesse befitting a prince, and his acting talents lent themselves to dramatic roles.

Some of Vest's best-remembered roles include the Prince in Smuin's "Cinderella," the Beast/Prince in Christensen's "Beauty and the Beast," the husband in "The Beloved," the Rich Boy in "Filling Station," the poet in "La Sonnambula," the second movement in "Harp Concerto," the lead in Christensen's "Airs de Ballet," the pas de deux from "Bouquet" and "Symphony in C," the Phlegmatic variation of "The Four Temperaments," the poet in "La Sonnambula," as well as leads in "Concerto Barocco," "Serenade," and "The Mistletoe Bride," among others.

Vest was also well-liked by his fellow dancers. He is recalled as a "friendly, good-natured and very giving man" by Carmela and Zoltan Peter, who also danced with him at San Francisco Ballet during the early 1980s.

Anita Paciotti, now a principal character dancer with San Francisco Ballet, recalls his professionalism.

"We all loved Vane. He was wonderful to work with -- very reliable and relaxed. A wonderful partner and a great actor as well. I don't remember him ever missing a rehearsal. He was willing to experiment (in the studio) and create a role, a characterization. He was a very versatile performer and he loved what he did."

Vest excelled in dramatic and character roles and is remembered for his strong acting capabilities. He could easily play the stern Tybalt in "Romeo & Juliet" one night, and appear as a love-stricken Romeo the next. His acting range was impressive, and combined with his dancing talents, created a rare performer. Among his character roles were the Widow Simone in "La Fille Mal Gardee," one of the stepsisters in "Cinderella," Herr Drosselmeyer in Lew Christensen's "The Nutcracker," Tybalt in "Romeo and Juliet," and the Clown in "Jinx." He also played an effectively cool, stern Sheriff in the Pool Hall scene of Michael Smuin's "Song for Dead Warriors," which was filmed for television.

Vest's film credits also include a film version of the ballet "Tealia" with Erickson --herself a former San Francisco Ballet principal dancer -- which won the U.S. Information Agency’s Golden Eagle Award in 1977 and was selected for exhibition at the 1977 Moscow Film Festival.

He became company regisseur in 1982, remained with San Francisco Ballet until May, 1985, and was later an occasional member of the San Francisco Ballet School faculty.

Vest is survived by his wife Linda Vest, of Rancho Cordova, California; and his son, Peter Brandon Vest, 22, and daughter, Haley Vest, 17, from his earlier marriage to former San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Elizabeth Tienken.

Edited by Mary Ellen Hunt.

Please join the discussion in our forum.


Submit press releases to press@criticaldance.com

For information, corrections and questions, please contact admin@criticaldance.com