The Man Who Saved Ballet

ONE HOT AUGUST DAY IN 1929. A HARvard undergraduate named Lincoln Kirstein was poking around Venice and stepped into a church. A funeral was going on, so he quickly departed. A few days later he learned he had stumbled into the funeral of Serge Diaghilev--the legendary impresario who revived Russian ballet. "Without Diaghilev the great tradition of classical ballet dancing might have died of dry rot," wrote the young man later. Last week Kirstein died at 88 in New York, just as the New York City Ballet--which he cofounded with choreographer George Balanchine--was beginning its 103d season. Without Kirstein, the great tradition of classical ballet might have died of dry rot.

Kirstein grew up in Boston blessed with family wealth, a restless intellect and a passion for the arts. At 26, crazy about ballet, he met the Russian emigre Balanchine in London and invited him to start a new American ballet company. Few artists have had such a patron: Kirstein's vision helped bring about the NYCB, its attendant School of American Ballet, New York's cultural crown jewel Lincoln Center and dozens of astonishing Balanchine ballets--works whose sleek, jazzy lines and impetuous rhythms reshaped an entire art form.

Kirstein retired as director of the company and president of the school in 1989. But he remained a familiar presence at performances, settling into his seat in the New York State Theater--first ring, front row, on the aisle. Somebody else will sit there now. But in Miami, Seattle, St. Peters-burg--wherever dancers are at work on a Balanchine ballet--his gift puts down new roots, and flowers all over again.

RETIRED: Don Shula, 66, the winningest coach in the NFL, with 347 victories over 33 years; after 26 years head-coaching the Miami Dolphins, Jan. 5. The only coach in modern pro football to have an undefeated season (1972), Shula lost his last two games -- and bagged his contract a year early.

BORN: To "Today" show cohost Katie Couric and husband Jay Monahan, a daughter, Caroline; Jan. 5. Also last week, Bryant Gumbel announced that after 14 years on "Today," he'll call it yesterday at the end of 1996.

RESIGNED: Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama; after an unpopular 18-month tenure. Japan's first socialist prime minister in 46 years was buffeted by problems, from a weak economy to the Kobe earthquake. His likely successor: Trade Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, a feisty nationalist. Also resigning last week was Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, 44. Boyish looking and Western leaning, he failed to appease the hard-line communist core.