December 09, 1880 - July 15, 1944
Mikhail Mordkin was one of the most influential Russian-American ballet dancers and choreographers of the first half of the XX century, who laid the foundation of the immensely successful American Ballet Theater.
Mikhail Mordkin – ABT's founding father
Mikhail Mordkin was born Moscow, Russian Empire, and started his professional career in the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet School. In 1899 he graduated and – a statement to his extraordinary abilities – in the same year he was appointed a ballet master!
In 1909 he was invited to Diaghilev's ballet and joined it as a leading dancer. After the very first season - another statement to his talent - he remained in Paris to dance with Pavlova, a leading ballerina of the time.
After the successes with Diaghilev's troupe, he created his own dancing company, the All Star Imperial Russian Ballet, and toured America extensively (and generally with praise from critics) in 1911 and 1912.
But his alma mater called, and in 1917 Mikhail returned to the Bolshoi theater, where he was appointed its director! The happy reunion, unfortunately, was not meant to last long...
After the October Revolution, he, like many other dancers and artists, decided that the new regime and creative freedoms do not mix, and decided to emigrate, first working in Lithuania, and later, in 1924, moving to the United States.
Here, he founded the Mordkin Ballet in 1926, for which he - for the first time - choreographed a complete Swan Lake and many other ballets. During its active time, the company included such distinguished artists as Hilda Butsova, Felia Doubrovska, Pierre Vladimiroff, Vera Nemtchinova and Nicholas Zvereff. After an unsuccessful European tour, undertaken the same year, the company was disbanded.
Mordkin continued performing on stage as a freelance dancer and, more actively, a teacher. But all this time he cherished the thought of recreating his own ballet company, learning from his past mistakes... In 1937, he gathered the best of his American students and formed a new Mordkin Ballet, destined to become the Ballet Theatre, which is now known as the legendary American Ballet Theatre.
After the first season, his student Lucia Chase and Richard Pleasant helped finance and manage his company, because Mordkin, being a man of art and not business, lacked ambition.
For many years to come, he remained the creative force behind the ABT's forerunner, basically laying the groundwork of the modern ballet in America! Mikhail Mordkin died in Millbrook, New York, aged 64.
Mikhail Mordkin papers – 1885-1979, Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
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