Friday, September 12, 2008

This Week in Dance History September 13-19

September 13, 1913-Charles “Cholly’ Atkins the U.S. dancer, choreographer and vaudeville performer was born. Atkins was credited with giving the Motown recording artists their distinctive choreography. They didn't know his name," wrote Detroit Free Press dance critic David Lyman of Atkin, "But Friday night, when the Funk Brothers got to that point in 'Stop! (In the Name of Love)'-- the point where the Supremes plant their feet and defiantly thrust their arms forward - nearly every person in the Detroit Opera House joined in with the choreography."

And on this date in 1960- The American Ballet theater, the first American ballet company to perform in the USSR, began its tour before a packed house at Moscow’s Stanislavsky Theater.

September 14, 1996- Actress and dancer Juliet Prowse passed away at age 59. Prowse's dreams of becoming a ballerina were thwarted by her height. By the time she was 14, and attending the Royal Academy of Dance, she was almost six feet tall. Instead she became a dancer in European nightclubs. While dancing in Paris, she was spotted by Hollywood choreographer Hermes Pan and signed to a role in the movie “Can-Can.” Soviet Premier Khrushchev was invited to watch rehearsals for the movie. The next day, he denounced the dance as immoral. Prowse's photo accompanied the news stories in newspapers worldwide and she became an instant celebrity. (In the clip below, she is in the red dress.)

September 15, 1834- Fanny Elssler made her debut in Paris in La Tempete, a ballet based on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

And on this date in 1876-Nikolai Sergeyev, dancer and company manager of the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg, was born.

And on this date in 1952- American dancer Charles Atkins made his last Broadway appearance as a dancer in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes at the Zigfeld Theater.

September, 16 1996- Dancer and actor Gene Nelson passed away at age 76. He was inspired to become a dancer after seeing the Fred Astaire film “Flying Down to Rio.” He is best remembered for the role of cowboy Will Parker in the film “Oklahoma!”

September 17, 1904-The first major British choreographer, Frederick Ashton was born. Ashton, wrote New York Times reviewer Jack Anderson, "did much to develop a distinctively British balletic style characterized by elegance, lyricism and graciousness. A versatile choreographer, he created ballets that drew on or evoked literary sources, that told stories and that were simple responses to a musical score. To each of his dances, Sir Frederick brought a distinctively musical and humane perspective and an attention to detail that also helped to define the national style."

September 18, 1905- The Tony Award winning dancer and choreographer Agnes De Mille was born, the niece of the famous film maker Cecil B. De Mille. In 1939, she was invited to join the American Ballet Theatre's opening season. Here, she created her first ballet, Black Ritual, in 1940. This ballet became the first ever to use black dancers. But it was her 1942 Americana ballet Rodeo that truly put her on the dance map. She choreographed the musicals "Oklahoma,” in 1943, and "Brigadoon," in 1947.

September 19, 1927- Isadora Duncan passed away in an tragic accident in Nice, France. The dancer, considered the mother of modern dance, was fond of long, flowing scarves. She was wearing one in her friend’s Bugatti when the cloth wrapped around the axle. She was yanked from the car and dragged. “I never saw Isadora Duncan dance," wrote British novelist Rayner Heppenstall, "That, I believe may well be my best qualification for writing about her. For it seems that nobody who did see her was able to tell about it sanely…Evidently, if I had seen Isadora Duncan dance, there would have been no chance of critical sanity. With such a woman, you must either be outraged, or laugh or fall cataclysmically in love; and find yourself in Jericho anyway. I fancy I should have fallen in love.”