Philippe Braunschweig, 82, ballet patron

By Anna Kisselgoff
New York Times / April 11, 2010

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NEW YORK — Philippe Braunschweig, the heir to a Swiss watchmaking fortune who founded the innovative and prestigious Prix de Lausanne ballet competition for young dancers, died of cancer April 3 in Vevey, Switzerland, where he lived. He was 82.

The Prix de Lausanne, founded in 1973 with a focus on furthering dancers’ training, offers scholarships to some of ballet’s leading academies. It has also enhanced the careers of fledgling dancers — including Ethan Stiefel, Darcey Bussell, and Christopher Wheeldon — who attended those schools but competed for the experience and exposure.

Winners of the competition, which also awards cash prizes and medals, include Alessandra Ferri, Diana Vishneva, Carlos Acosta, Marcelo Gomes, and Julie Kent.

Although an impassioned balletomane, Mr. Braunschweig seemed less enthusiastic about performances than about his ceaseless campaign to better the lot of aspiring dancers and retired dancers.

The competition was meant to provide opportunities for students to whom the best training was not always available. To reach a wider pool of applicants, Mr. Braunschweig and his wife, the former dancer Elvire Kremis, occasionally staged the competition outside Switzerland. It was held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1985 and in Tokyo and Moscow in other years.

“She will be a star,’’ Kremis said after Vishneva triumphed in Moscow.

Russian ballet authorities, however, made clear that they did not want the Prix de Lausanne to “steal’’ the pupils in whom Russian ballet schools had invested so much and discouraged their students from taking scholarships in the West.

Mr. Braunschweig’s association with Harvey Lichtenstein, director of the Brooklyn Academy, led to their collaboration on a three-year study, “Making Changes: Facilitating the Transition of Dancers to Post-Performance Careers,’’ published in 2004 at the Monaco Dance Forum conference.

For three decades, Mr. Braunschweig organized conferences about the role of dance and dancers in society, often in universities in Europe and the United States.

Born into a prominent Swiss watchmaking family in La Chaux-de-Fonds, he studied physics in Zurich and eventually became head of the family business, Portescap.

But he had also taken ballet classes with a Russian emigre dancer, Julie Sedova, in France, where he met Kremis. They married in 1953 and lived in La Chaux-de-Fonds. They worked together in supervising the Prix and retired in 1997, handing over its direction to Swiss and local officials, as well as an artistic committee. Kremis died in 2007.

At an international conference that he organized with the University of Lausanne in 1990, Mr. Braunschweig stated his credo: “Dancers find themselves in an ambiguous situation,’’ he said. “Their status in society is not clear. Both artists and athletes, they do not receive the respect they deserve.’’

Mr. Braunschweig leaves his son, Georges of Paris; a daughter, Valerie of New York City; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.