(b New York, 18 Sept. 1905 (some sources 1906 or 1909); d New York, 7 Oct. 1993)
US dancer, choreographer, director, and writer. A pioneer of dance in America who helped to develop the genre of American-themed ballets and fundamentally changed the status of choreography in Broadway musicals. Born the niece of Hollywood film director Cecil B. DeMille, she was educated at the University of Southern California and studied dance with Kosloff in Los Angeles and Rambert in London (from 1932). She also studied with Tudor and Sokolova. From 1928 she toured America and Europe as a solo dancer and in 1929 made her debut as a professional choreographer, staging dances for Morley's revival of The Black Crook. In 1932 she moved to Europe where she toured as a solo artist before joining the Rambert company where she created roles in several Tudor ballets, including Dark Elegies (1937) and Gallant Assembly (1937). She was associated with Tudor's first company, Dance Theatre (later becoming London Ballet), where she created the role of Venus in his The Judgment of Paris (1938). In 1938 she returned to America where she became resident choreographer of Ballet Theatre (later American Ballet Theatre). Her first important ballet was Black Ritual (using Milhaud's score for La Création du monde) for ABT in 1940. She also worked with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (1942) and the Jooss Ballet (1942), and briefly toured with her own short-lived company, the Agnes de Mille Dance Theatre (1953–4). Her works were notable for their vivid subject matter, and their ability to marry classical and vernacular movement styles. Subsequent ballets included Drums Sound in Hackensack (mus. Cohen, Jooss Ballet, 1941); Three Virgins and a Devil (mus. Respighi, ABT, 1941); Rodeo (mus. Copland, Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, 1942), in which she created the role of the Cowgirl, Fall River Legend (mus. Gould, ABT, 1948), about the axe-murderer Lizzie Borden, The Harvest According (mus. V. Thomson, ABT, 1952), The Rib of Eve (mus. Gould, ABT, 1956), The Wind in the Mountains (mus. Rosenthal, ABT, 1965), The Four Marys (mus. T. Rittman, ABT, 1965), The Rehearsal (mus. Gould, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, 1965), A Rose for Miss Emily (mus. Hovhaness, ABT, 1970), Summer (mus. Schubert, Boston Ballet, 1975), Texas Fourth (mus. traditional, ABT, 1976), The Informer (mus. Celtic, ABT 1988). She choreographed many Broadway productions, among them Oklahoma! (1943), which was the first musical to use dance as a means of advancing the plot and developing character, as well as being the first to require its dancers to be trained in ballet and modern dance. Subsequent Broadway productions on which she worked included One Touch of Venus (1943), Bloomer Girl (1944), Carousel (1945), Brigadoon (1947), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1949), Paint Your Wagon (1951), and 110 in the Shade (1963). She also worked as a Broadway director (Cole Porter's Out of This World, 1950), and in film and television. She founded the Heritage Dance Theatre, based at the N. Carolina School of the Arts (1973–5). She was additionally a prolific writer whose books included Dance to the Piper (London, 1951, Boston, 1952), And Promenade Home (Boston, 1956), To a Young Dancer (Boston, 1962), The Book of the Dance (New York, 1963), Lizzie Borden: A Dance of Death (Boston, 1968), Speak To Me, Dance With Me (Boston, 1973), Where the Wings Grow (New York, 1978), America Dances (New York, 1981), Reprieve (1981), and Martha, the Life and Work of Martha Graham (New York, 1991).