Michel Fokine

(1880—1942) Russian-born American dancer and choreographer

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Russian ballet dancer and choreographer who, under the patronage of Sergei Diaghilev, helped to revolutionize the ballet.

Fokine studied at the Imperial Ballet School in St Petersburg and made his debut as a dancer with the Russian Imperial Ballet on his eighteenth birthday. Six years later (1904) he wrote the scenario for his first ballet, Daphnis et Chloë to Ravel's music; in 1905 he produced the famous solo The Dying Swan for Anna Pavlova. By this time he was already protesting against the rigid conventions of the Imperial Ballet repertoire, in which most ballets consisted of waltzes and galops, interspersed with gymnastic solos to show off the virtuosity of a star ballerina. Fokine maintained that all the separate facets of a ballet should come together to form a cohesive whole, with movement, music, costume, and decor all in a consistent style and of equal importance.

These revolutionary ideas coincided with those of Diaghilev, who employed him in 1909 as the first choreographer to the Ballets Russes. For this company, in collaboration with Stravinsky and later Ravel and also drawing upon the music of earlier composers, such as Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov, he created innovative ballets, incuding Prince Igor (1909), The Firebird (1910), Schéhérazade (1910), and Petrushka (1911). Léon Bakst (1866–1924) and Alexandre Benoise (1870–1960), friends of Diaghilev from student days, designed spectacular sets. Fokine was the first choreographer to compose a one-act ballet and in 1909 created the first mood-ballet, Les Sylphides, based on Chopin's piano works. In 1923 he settled in New York, working with companies in the United States and Europe, and became a naturalized US citizen in 1932.

Subjects: Dance.

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