Sunday, June 1, 2008

This Week in Dance HIstory: June 1-7

June 1, 1995: Former ballerina Prudence Hyman passed away at the age of 81. She appeared in a 1931 film version of the ballet Les Sylphides. Later, after World War II, she retired from ballet and switched to performing in stage musicals and films including the horror film The Gorgon.

And on this date in 2005: The television competition “Dancing with the Stars” premiered on ABC. It was based on British series "Strictly Come Dancing," where celebrities partner up with professional dancers and compete against each other in weekly elimination rounds to determine a winner.

June 2 1909: Michel Fokine demonstrated that ballet could be beautifully abstract when his Les Sylphides was presented by Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in Paris.

June 3 1906: Josephine Baker, the dancer and singer that Ernest Hemingway once called "the most sensational woman anyone ever saw,” was born. The biography on The Official Josephine Baker Web Site sums up her influence: "Famous for barely-there dresses and no-holds-barred dance routines, her exotic beauty generated nicknames 'Black Venus,' 'Black Pearl' and 'Creole Goddess.' Admirers bestowed a plethora of gifts, including diamonds and cars, and she received approximately 1,500 marriage proposals. She maintained energetic performances and a celebrity status for 50 years until her death in 1975. Unfortunately, racism prevented her talents from being wholly accepted in the United States until 1973."

June 4, 1910: Choreographed by Michel Fokine to the symphonic poem by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, with design by Leon Bakst, Scheherazade received its world premiere by the Ballet Russe de Serge Diaghilev at the Theatre National de l'Opera, Paris. With its narrative based on the first tale of the Thousand and One Nights, this exotic ballet exemplified Fokine's revolutionary integration of theme with dance, music and design.

And on This Date in 1912: Pilar López Júlvez, dancer, choreographer and teacher was born. A dancer during of the golden age of flamenco ballet in the 1930s and 1940s, she excelled as a choreographer and teacher of young dancers. “The hallmark of Pilar López's teaching and style was sobriety and restraint,” wrote Michael Eaude in The Guardian when Lopez passed away at age 95, “in many ways the antithesis of her contemporary Carmen Amaya, the undisputed genius of 20th-century flamenco dance. Amaya was wild, flailing movement and colour, much more the image of Gypsy passion than the highly technical López, who was not a Gypsy at all.”

June 5, 1919: La Boutique Fantasque made its London debut at the Alhambra Theatre featuring Lydia Lopokova. "I have never heard a theater resound to greater applause," wrote C.W. Beaumont in Fanfare.

June 6, 1898: Dame Ninette de Valois founder of the Royal Ballet was born. A one time dancer with the Ballet Russes, she retired at age 28 to promote ballet throughout Europe. She was almost singlehandedly responsible for British ballet. Ballet Mazine wrote of the dance pioneer: " is perhaps her imagination that is the most astonishing. It's almost impossible to us, who grumble if a fortnight goes by without some ballet to watch, to think how unlikely it was in the 1920s that ballet could become rooted in England, let alone a national ballet - one with no Russian names and with its own heritage of native ballets. De Valois had the foresight to know that it could be done, and the courage and stubbornness to fight to achieve it." You can read an interview with Valois on Dance Insider.

And on this date in 1968: Following a performance of Romeo and Juliet by Maurice Bejart's Ballet du Xxieme Siecle of Brussles at the Coliseum in Lisbon, Mr. Bejart asked for a moment of silence in memory of Robert Kennedy, "victim of violence and fascism." After the moment was observed, Bejart launched into a speech that began "Down with all dictatorships." The next day the Portuguese police expelled him from the country.

June 7, 1928: Charles Strouse was born. Strouse was a composer, lyricist and arranger on Broadway musicals such as Dance A Little Closer, Bye Bye Birdie and .