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Ballet & Dance

Michel Fokine – The Russian-American Pioneer of Modern Ballet
 
Mikhail Fokine, or, in the more prevalent French transliteration, Michel Fokine ( was a groundbreaking Russian-American choreographer and dancer.
 
Fokine was born in Saint Petersburg, then Russian Empire, to the family of a prosperous merchant. At the age of only 9, he enrolled into the Saint Petersburg Imperial Ballet School (later more known as the Vaganova Ballet Academy). And at the age of 18, he debuted on the stage of the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre with the Imperial Russian Ballet, later renamed the Mariinsky Ballet. In 1902, he became a teacher and choreographer in Mariinski.
 
Fokine was one of the first Russian choreographers to challenge the classical approach to ballet and move beyond the stereotypical traditions. He despised costuming and mime prevalent on stage of the time, and sought to strip ballets of their artificial expressions, as well as their outdated costumes...
 
In one of his rebellions against the tradition, after the Imperial theater's bosses refused his request to have his dancers perform barefoot in his 1907 ballet "Eunice", he – in an act of defiance - had toes painted on the dancers' tights so that they appear to be dancing barefoot! 
 
And his 1905 ballet "Acis and Galetea" included a near-acrobatic performance. One of the performers was young Vaslav Nijinsky. Fokine later featured him in many of his ballets, including his famous "Les Sylphides" (1907). 
 
Nijinsky became the apple of discord between Fokine and the famous impresario Sergei Diaghilev, who invited the choreographer to his Ballets Russes in 1909. Only three years after the start of the initially successful collaboration, Fokine left the company, jealous of Diaghilev's close association with Nijinsky. 
 
In the 20s he immigrated to America, settling in New York City, where he founded a ballet school and continued to appear on stage together with his wife, Vera Fokina. He became a United States citizen in 1932.
 
Fokine staged more than 70 ballets in Europe and the United States. His best-known works are Les Sylphides, as well as The Firebird, Petrushka, Le Spectre de la Rose and Daphnis et Chloé and Scheherazade, which he created for Ballets Russes. Interestingly, despite Fokine's being one of the pioneers of the modern style in ballet, his pieces are still performed by leading ballet troupes all over the world, with the Mariinsky Ballet creating a retrospective of his works and premiering it at London's Covent Garden in  2011.
 
Fokine died peacefully in his bed in New York on 22 August 1942...
 
Sources:
Au, Susan (2002). Ballet and Modern Dance. New York, NY: Thames and Hudson
Beaumont, C. W., Michel Fokine and His Ballets
 

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