Friday, December 21, 2007

This Month in Dance History: December

We haven't been on top of This Week in Dance History. So we present for you our first This Month in Dance History. Enjoy!

December 1, 1910- Dame Alicia Markova (pictured left) was born Lillian Alicia Marks in London. At six, she began dance lessons on the recommendation of a specialist, to remedy knock‑knees and flat feet. It worked out well for her. When she was only 14 she joined the Ballet Russes and went on to be, in the words of The Independent, "a living legend." When she passed away at age 94, dance critic Clive Barnes wrote, "so many Giselles, but for me really only Markova."


On this date in 1957- The New York City Ballet debuted "Agon," a collaboration between composer Igor Stravinsky and choreographer George Balanchine. New York Times critic Jack Anderson described it this way: "...both Stravinsky's score and George Balanchine's choreography for 'Agon' paid homage to 17th-century dance forms. Yet the music also contained dissonances and the choreography utilized a demanding contemporary dance technique."

And in 1990- Pioneering choreographer and artistic director Alvin Ailey passed away. Anna Kisselgoff of The New York Times wrote of Mr. Ailey, "You didn't need to have known Ailey personally to have been touched by his humanity, enthusiasm and exuberance and his courageous stand for multiracial brotherhood."

December 2, 1973- One of the great choreographers and performers in the history of modern dance, Jose Limon, (pictured right) passed away after a brief illness. His powerful dancing shifted perceptions of the male dancer. Limon choreographed at least one piece a year until his death.

December 3 2000- Senator Hillary Clinton called Mikhail Baryshnikov "the greatest male classical dancer of all time" when he was recognized with a Kennedy Center Honor.

December 4, 1955- Carl Perkins played a concert at a local high school sorority dance. Perkins saw a beautiful girl dancing with a boy wearing blue suede shoes. As they danced the boy warned the girl not to step on his shoes. Perkins was impressed that this boy was more concerned with his shoes than his date, and was inspired to write a song. He called it "Blue Suede Shoes."

December 5, 1854- Aaron Allen of Boston patented the folding theatre chair.

On this date in 2005- Serge Lavoie, former principal dancer with The National Ballet of Canada died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 41 while on tour as ballet master with Columbia City Ballet.

December 6, 1896-Broadway would not be the same without Ira Gershwin, who was born on this date. The lyricists, mainly in collaboration with his brother George, provided the text for such musicals as Porgy and Bess; Of Thee I Sing; Lady, Be Good; Funny Face; Oh. Kay!, Girl Crazy, Lady in the Dark and in adaptations after his death, My One and Only, Crazy for You and Never Gonna Dance.


December 7 1935-At the height of the dance marathon craze, a dance marathon "Super Show"closed in Wenatchee, Washington after 342 hours (just over 14 days).

And on this date in 1998- Kirov ballerina Alla Shelest, a major Russian ballerina of the 1940s and 50s and the former wife of Yuri Grigorovich, passed away in St. Petersburg at age 79. You can find an interesting article reflecting on old photos of the dancer on the blog for the "Society for the Advancement of Auguste Vestris."

December 8, 1900- Uday Shankar, (pictured right) the choreographer and dancer who helped to earn great worldwide respect for Indian dance in the 1930s, was born.

December 9, 1942- The Aram Khachaturian ballet "Gayane," featuring the surging "Saber Dance," was first performed by the Kirov Ballet.

December 10, 1768 - The Royal Academy of Arts was founded in London by George III.

December 11, 1916- "The Mambo King" PĂ©rez Prado was born. One of the most influential pop orchestra leaders of the early 1950s, was the first to market his compositions under the name "mambo," and his "Mambo No. 5" took Latin America and the U.S. by storm.

December 12, 1882 - The Bijou Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts, became the first to be lighted by electricity.

On this date in 2000- costumes and other memorabilia belonging to Dame Margot Fonteyn (left with Rudolf Nureyev) one of Britain's best loved dancers brought in pounds 640,000, six times more than expected, at Christies auction house. (You can hear Valery Lantratov's comments on Margot Fonteyn in the fourth section of his podcast)

December 13, 1957- Alexander Levitoff passed away. The Russian-born impresario managed such dancers as Ekaterina Geltzer and Anna Pavlova. He organized the Australian tour of the original Ballet Russe and settled in Australia in the late 1930s. He worked there until he moved to Paris a few years before his death.

December 14, 1844- English ballerina Clara Vestris Webster's dress caught fire during a performance of The Revolt of the Harem at the Drury Lane Theater. She died three days later. (The link above is to an interesting historical article "Trials, Troubles and Temptations in a Dangerous Era published in Dance Magazine in 1999)

December 15, 1879- Rudolf Laban, inventor of labanotation, was born.

Also on this date in 1944-Ballet International performed the ballet "Mad Tristan" choreographed by Leonide Massine against a set painted by the surrealist artist Salvador Dali. It was a complete flop. One critic called it a "25-minute yawn." Time Magazine reported: "Regurgitation is a hygienic, not an artistic, process. Salvador Dali, turning aside from surrealistic painting to drama, has swallowed Wagner's Tristan and Isolde and spewed it up with much of the murky contents of his unconscious adhering to the gobbets."

December 16, 1937- "The Lambeth Walk" was introduced during the first performance of Noel Gay's "Me and My Girl" in London.

On this same date in 1977- The disco film Saturday Night Fever was released. John Travolta, who was also shooting the "Welcome Back Kotter" TV series during the filming, ran two miles a day and danced for three hours daily to get in shape for this film.

December 17, 1892: The Nutcracker debuts at the Maryinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg. What can we say about the Nutcracker? BalletMet has compiled a good history.

December 18 1778- Joseph Grimaldi the "greatest clown in history" was born. The son of Giuseppit Grimaldi, an Italian dancing master, Grimaldi used his skills as a musician, acrobat and dancer to become the "father of modern clowning." He a master of physical expression and comic timing. He was so famous in his day that Charles Dickens wrote his biography. (You can read or download it in its entirety through Google Books.)

December 19, 1957-"The Music Man" brings 76 trombones to the Broadway stage. Robert Preston and Barbara Cook starred in the production which made its debut at the Majestic Theatre. Meredith Willson penned the book, lyrics and score from a story he and Frank Lacey devised. It would run for a staggering 1,375 performances.

December 20, 1911- Swan Lake makes its U.S. debut at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.

December 21, 1976- Mikhail Baryshnikov wins a big success as a choreographer and dancer with his Nutcracker at the American Ballet Theater.

December 22, 1815 - French dancer Lucien Petipa was born on this date. A handsome and popular dancer, he made his debut with the Paris Opera in 1840. He partnered Fanny Elssler in "La Sylphide," danced the role of Albrecht in "Giselle" opposite Carolina Grisi and in 1865 became maitre de ballet of the Paris Opera.

December 23 1918 - Born this day was flamenco dancer and actor Jose Greco. He went on to be the best known Spanish dancer of the 20th Century. You can see him at work in this clip from You Tube:


And on this day in 2002- Indian dancer Lakshmi Shanmukham Knight, who divided her professional career between appearances in India and the United States, passed away. You can read her obituary by clicking on the link above.

December 24, 1858-Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, co-founder with Konstantin Stanislavsky of the Moscow Art Theatre was born. This theater, where Valery Lantratov was a principal dancer for much of his career, is featured on the Kennedy Center Artsedge Page. (The Kennedy Center Artsedge is an excellent resource)

And on this date in 1957- The London Festival Ballet presented “The Nutcracker.” The editor’s of Ballet Annual noted “The Festival Ballet has found the ideal Christmas entertainment in Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and one need not be a prophet to foresee that this will become an annual event at the Festival Hall.” Critics especially responded to Anton Dolin’s “pleasantly frightening” Drosselmeyer.

December 25- Merry Christmas

December 26, 1869- The ballet "Don Quixote" is performed for the first time at The Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. The Footnotes ballet page offers a synopsis and quotes from famous dancers about watching and performing in this classic.


And on this date in 1957- John Cranko’s “The Angels” performed by the Royal Ballet premiered at The Royal Opera House. Arnold L. Haskell and Mary Clarke, editors of The Ballet Annual, were not impressed. “a year ago [Cranko] had seriously jeopardized the success of The Prince of the Pagodas. This time he killed his ballet stone dead,” they wrote.

December 27, 1932-The Radio City Music Hall in New York opened. Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr., and Tony Bennett are just a few of the stars to grace the stage of Radio City Music Hall since its opening. It is best known, of course, as the home to the precision-kicking Radio City Rockettes.

December 27 1976-Ballet Shoes, an Emmy-winning story of three orphan girls who attend ballet school in 1935 England premiered on PBS.

December 28, 1918-Paul Godkin, a versatile choreographer who worked in Hollywood films and on stage productions in Las Vegas, New York and Paris, was born. Godkin first danced as a professional in a mid-1930s Hollywood Bowl production of "The Bartered Bride" opposite Agnes de Mille. In 1937, George Balanchine personally requested that Godkin join the American Ballet Theater. After World War II he became a choreographer creating the 1948 Broadway production "Ballet Ballads."

December 29, 1952 - Born this day was American Ballet Theater prima ballerina Gelsey Kirkland (pictured left), perhaps best known for her partnership with Mikhail Baryshnikov. Kirkland is also the author of the children's book The Little Ballerina and Her Dancing Horse and an autobiography Dancing on My Grave.

December 30 1934- Dancer and actor Russ Tamblyn was born. He is best known for his roles in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and West Side Story. He was a gymnast before his theatrical career.

December 31, 1923-The Song and Dance Man starring George M. Cohan, who also wrote and produced, made its debut at the Hudson Theater. The story highlighted the redemption of an unemployed entertainer who turned to robbery.