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Léonide Massine

(1896—1979) Russian-born choreographer and ballet dancer


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1896–1979)

Russian dancer and choreographer. He became a naturalized French citizen in 1944.

The son of a horn player and a singer in the chorus at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Massine attended the theatre's school, where he studied ballet. As a result of his lack of technical excellence he was about to settle for a career as an actor, when he was persuaded by Diaghilev in 1914 to join the Ballets Russes; the same year he danced the lead role (intended for Nijinsky, who had been dismissed) in The Legend of Joseph. After this success Diaghilev took him seriously in hand and trained him as both dancer and choreographer; his first work to be performed, Le Soleil de nuit, was staged in New York in 1915.

During the next few years Massine produced some of his most famous ballets. He collaborated with Cocteau, Picasso, and Satie on Parade (1917), he produced Le Tricorne and La Boutique fantasque for the Alhambra Theatre in London in 1919, and in 1920 created Le Chant du Rossignol, Pulcinella, and a new version of The Rite of Spring, all with music by Stravinsky. In 1921 he married an English girl in the Ballets Russes and was dismissed from the company. He continued to create ballets for Diaghilev, however, including Les Matelots (1925) and Ode (1928), as well as touring with his own company. In 1932 he joined the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, for whom he produced such comedy ballets as Jeux d'enfants and Gaîté Parisienne. During this period he choreographed ballets for existing symphonies, including Les Présages (1933) using Tchaikovsky's fifth symphony and Symphonie fantastique (1936) using Berlioz's work: these ballets were controversial and are no longer performed in the modern repertory, but the idea has influenced subsequent choreographers.

After the war Massine concentrated on reviving his older, more popular, works for companies throughout the world; he also choreographed and danced in the films The Red Shoes (1948) and Tales of Hoffmann (1951). In 1960 he formed a new company, the Balletto Europeo, and continued to dance until well past the age of sixty.

Subjects: Dance.


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