Bertram Ross, who had been considered one of America's most distinguished dancers and was a leading member of the Martha Graham Dance Company, died Sunday. He was 82. Ross died in Manhattan and 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. Often praised for his power, dignity, and theatrical expressiveness, he once said his aim was simply to break everyone's heart.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Ross originally studied painting at the Art Student's League. 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. In 1966 he was named codirector of the company.
Later, in 1973, Ross left the Graham company and two years later pursued a singing career and eventually performed domestically and internationally with Wallowitch, a pianist and singer himself.
Ross also created dances for Gary Bonasorte's 1989 Broadway play The Aunt and was featured in several leading roles in 1990 for the Amy Greenfield film Antigone. Wallowitch and Ross were the subject of a 2000 documentary, Richard Morris's Wallowitch and Ross: This Moment.
Along with Wallowitch, Ross is survived by his brother, David Prensky, of Palm Beach, Fla.