Remembering Patricia Wilde
Patricia Wilde died on July 17, 2021, at age ninety-three following a brief illness. A first-generation ballerina of New York City Ballet, she was also a teacher and coach, as well as artistic director of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, remaining professionally active until her final years.
The youngest of five children, Wilde was born on July 16, 1928, in Ottawa, Canada, and grew up in the city’s rural outskirts. Her father, John White, was an engineer; her mother, Eileen Simpson, commercially farmed her family’s vast estate.
Wilde followed older sister Nora into ballet class when she was three years old. Together they studied for a decade with Gwendolyn Osborne in Ottawa. In 1942, Nora won a scholarship to the School of American Ballet in New York. Wilde joined her there a year later.
Wilde began her association with George Balanchine in the summer of 1945, when he took her and a small group to dance at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. There he created his first choreography for her, in the “Walpurgisnacht” ballet in Gounod’s opera Faust. Immediately after that, she joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, where Balanchine was chief choreographer. With it she toured extensively across America and performed regularly in New York. She danced and created lead roles in ballets by Balanchine, Leonide Massine, Ruthanna Boris, and Agnes de Mille, interpreting every genre from Russian Imperial classicism to American folklore.
In October 1948, Balanchine’s New York City Ballet gave its debut performance. Eighteen months later, as the company prepared for its London debut, Balanchine asked Wilde to join his company. Reviewing that London season, Ballet Today wrote that Wilde “seems to typify what we are already beginning to think of as ‘a Balanchine dancer.’”
Over the next fifteen years, Wilde created ballerina roles in many ballets that remain the company’s core repertory, including Balanchine’s “Divertimento No. 15,” “La Valse,” “Square Dance,” “Raymonda Variations,” “Scotch Symphony,” “Swan Lake,” and “Western Symphony.” All told, her repertory at New York City Ballet encompassed forty different roles. She starred with the company on its extensive tours across the United States and in Europe, Japan, Australia, and Russia.
Writing in The New Yorker, Winthrop Sargeant described Wilde in 1964 as New York City Ballet’s “great female trouper and a dancer, who, one feels, would take on anything, no matter how difficult, and do it to perfection.”
In 1953, Wilde married production stage manager George Bardyguine.
In November 1965, she retired from New York City Ballet. Three months later, she gave her final performance, dancing Balanchine’s “Sylvia pas de deux” at a gala for the Red Cross in Paris.
In 1968, Wilde and Bardyguine’s daughter Anya was born, and in 1969 their son Youri.
Wilde embarked on a new, off-stage career as director of the start-up, Harkness Ballet School, before returning to New York City Ballet to teach and coach. She then joined the rehearsal staff of American Ballet Theatre and the faculty of its school, eventually directing its scholarship program.
In 1982 Wilde became artistic director of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, where she significantly raised the company’s profile. She retired as director in 1996 but continued to be closely involved with the company. For the Balanchine Foundation, she coached for video record young dancers performing roles that she had created. She remained active until recently as a guest teacher at schools and companies around the United States. She received numerous awards, most recently a lifetime achievement award from the National Society of Arts and Letters.
Wilde is survived by her sister, Nora, her daughter, Anya, her son, Youri, and three grandchildren, Nicholas, Alexei, and Maksim. A celebration of Patricia Wilde’s life will be held on opening night of Season Premiere, October 22, 2021 at the Benedum Center. Wilde was a passionate advocate for live music in ballet: therefore in lieu of flowers, the family wishes donations to be made in her name to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Live Music Appeal. For more information on how to give in honor of Ms. Patricia Wilde, please visit www.pbt.org/livemusic, call 412-454-9127 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.