Bertram Ross, a leading member of the Martha Graham Dance Company and one of America’s most distinguished dancers, died in New York on April 20. He was 82.
He had suffered from Parkinson’s Syndrome for several years. But his partner, John Wallowitch, said the immediate cause was pneumonia.
Ross was known as the originator of roles in Graham’s major works like St. Michael in “Seraphic Dialogue,” and Agamemnon and Orestes in “Clytemnestra.”
Brooklyn native attended Oberlin College in Ohio and originally studied painting at the Art Student’s League. He was an Army mapmaker during WWII and returned to New York expecting to continue his art career. But when he saw performances of the Graham company, he dreamed of dancing. Despite his father’s objection, he enrolled and eventually joined the company in 1949.
Ross first partnered with Graham in 1953 playing Oedipus in “Night Journey.” That same year, after her divorce the departure of her husband from the company, Graham asked Ross to become her partner in her school. They worked together for another two decades, and in 1966 he was named co-director of the company.
The tall, handsome Ross was not interested in women and his relationship with Graham remained platonic. Perhaps out of frustration, she devised a series of lurid roles for him, in which she subjected him to all manner of torture and violent death onstage.
Ross’s dancing, however, was praised for its power, dignity and theatrical expressiveness. He once said his aim was simply to break everyone’s heart.
In 1973, Graham gave artistic control of her legacy to Ron Protas, a young photographer and fan, and Ross left the Graham company.
Two years later Ross took up a career as a nightclub singer, eventually performing with Wallowitch, who is a pianist, composer and singer in his own right. They toured widely, including successful club engagements in New York, Los Angeles and London, and were the subject of Richard Morris’ 1998 docu “Wallowitch and Ross: This Moment.” A CD of their songs was released last year.
Ross is surived by Wallowitch, who was his partner for 36 years, and a brother.