Dublin-born leading ballet dancer who worked with Nureyev

Antony (Tony) Rudenko: October 9th, 1946 - March 8th, 2014


Dancer and artist Tony Rudenko, who has died of cancer aged 67, danced in many leading roles during more than a decade spent with the Royal Ballet Company in London.

Born in Dublin’s East Wall, he later moved to Raheny where he spent his schoolgoing years. His Ukrainian father died in a motorcycle accident when he was a child, and for a time he took his stepfather’s surname – Behan – before reclaiming his original heritage as a teenager.

His ballet education began at the Desmond Domican School of Dance in Dublin’s Parnell Square, unbeknown to his parents who thought he was attending Irish dancing classes. He progressed to the National Ballet School under the tutelage of Pat Ryan where he found his metier.

At the age of 15 Rudenko was offered a scholarship to study at the Arts Educational Trust in London. There his career blossomed, and he was awarded the Ninette de Valois bursary to the Royal Ballet School, later graduating to the Royal Ballet Company.

He was to tour the world with them for more than a decade, dancing in all their major productions, including opposite Rudolf Nureyev in the legendary performer’s production of The Nutcracker .

During the 1960s he was part of London’s artistic milieu, where his circle of friends included artist David Hockney, writer Christopher Isherwood and painter RB Kitaj.

He forged a lifelong friendship with dancer Wayne Sleep who travelled to Dublin to see him just days before Rudenko died. During this surprise visit the pair reminisced about their time dancing together and their frolics, including a champagne party on board the ballet company’s private plane en route to Brazil: a problem with the aircraft forced them to divert to Sierra Leone, where the party continued.

“You had in ballet a lovely jump, a grand jeté . . . now you’ve jumped to heaven,” wrote Sleep in his funeral message.

Artistic differences finally led to his departure from the company while in New York, and he headed to Mexico where he spent the next year living among artists and gaining an encyclopaedic knowledge of Mayan art and culture. Later he returned to dancing and was invited to stage a production of Giselle in Hong Kong.

On his return to Dublin he took up residence in Henrietta Street, a place he took to his heart and where he lived – bar several more years in London – for the rest of his life. It was here that he developed another side to his creativity, becoming a master of assemblage: three-dimensional compositions of found objects.

One of his greatest supporters and a patron of his work was Miranda Guinness, already a friend from his London years. It was he who first brought her to St Anne’s Park in Raheny to show her the site where the Guinness house once stood.

In recent decades his life revolved around Henrietta Street where both his studio and garden were always talking points, and he reposed on the day of his funeral in the home of the artist Alice Hanratty. Delivering the eulogy at his humanist funeral, artist Mick O’Dea spoke of Rudenko’s love and knowledge of botany, birds and wildlife.

Predeceased by all his family members, he is survived by his closest friends Gerry Sandford and Roslyn Dee, and Jean-Marc and Rita Vidal.