Johan Renvall, 55; versatile NY ballet dancer

Mr. Renvall, with American Ballet Theater from 1978 to 1996.
Jack Mitchell/Getty Images/File 1982
Mr. Renvall, with American Ballet Theater from 1978 to 1996.

Johan Renvall, a principal dancer at American Ballet Theater whose range there from 1978 to 1996 could stun audiences with spectacular classical technique and — in dramatic ballets — powerful intensity, died Monday in New York. He was 55 and lived in Manhattan.

The cause was liver failure, said his partner, Tom Frueh.

Mr. Renvall left a lasting imprint at Ballet Theater as the original Bronze Idol in Natalia Makarova’s 1980 version of “La Bayadère.” As a temple statue come to life and near-naked in gold body paint, he erupted into sensational airborne bravura with perfect form.


Yet as critics across the country noted, Mr. Renvall’s gifts went far beyond pyrotechnics. Antony Tudor, Ballet Theater’s master of psychological ballet, cast him in his dance-dramas, in which he portrayed a murderer in “Undertow,” a youth in search of Zenlike enlightenment in “Shadowplay,” a young lover in “Dim Lustre,” and, in a memorably deep performance, a grieving mourner in “Dark Elegies.” As always, this depth came from the projection of his movement, not through conventional acting.

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
A look at the news and events shaping the day ahead, delivered every weekday.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

When he appeared in leading roles in 19th-century classics like “La Sylphide” and “Coppélia,” he was praised for the warmth of his characterization as well as for his virtuosity.

Johan Renvall was born in Stockholm, where he first became a figure skater, winning medals in the Swedish and Nordic championships. A coach suggested he study ballet, and he entered the school of the Royal Swedish Ballet, joining the company in 1977.

He joined Ballet Theater right after winning the silver medal at the prestigious Varna International Ballet Competition in Bulgaria in 1978. Ballet Theater made him a soloist in 1980 and a principal in 1987.

As a male ballet partner, he was on the short side (he said he was 5 feet 7 inches tall) and felt his height was a reason he was not used often in leading roles in 19th-century classics.


In 1984, he began choreographing for the New Jersey Ballet and his own touring group. Besides Frueh, he leaves his mother and a brother.