Mikhail Mordkin


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(b Moscow, 21 Dec. 1880; d Millbrook, NJ, 15 Jul. 1944)

Russian-US dancer, choreographer, teacher, and ballet director. He trained at the Bolshoi Ballet School in Moscow, graduating in 1899. Upon graduation he joined the Bolshoi Ballet as a soloist, and was appointed assistant ballet master five years later. He created the role of Matoh in Gorksy's Salammbo (1910), the Fisherman in Gorsky's Love is Quick (1913), Sonnewald in Gorsky's Schubertiana (1913), and Petronius in Gorsky's Eunice and Petronius (1915). He was part of Diaghilev's 1909 Paris season before touring with Pavlova (who finally fell out with him over his demand for equal billing). By 1911 he had set up his own touring company, the All-Star Imperial Russian Ballet, which he took to America and for which he staged Swan Lake. In 1912 he returned to the Bolshoi as a principal dancer (until 1918), where he created the role of Khan in Gorsky's 1914 staging of The Humpbacked Horse. He continued to work throughout Russia staging ballets, particularly in Tbilisi, until he left in 1924. After time spent in Lithuania, he eventually settled in America in 1924 where he became a pioneer in the development of the country's ballet culture. In 1926 he founded the Mordkin Russian Ballet, but it was not a success. When his company disbanded, he worked as a teacher and freelance choreographer for opera. In 1937 he was able to revive his company using students from his New York school, including Lucia Chase (others included Katharine Hepburn and Judy Garland). This short-lived troupe was the precursor to Ballet Theatre (later American Ballet Theatre), the latter having lured away Mordkin's dancers following a power struggle between himself and Richard Pleasant in 1939. He continued to teach in New York until his death. His ballets include The Goldfish (mus. N. Tcherepnin, 1937), Trepak (mus. A. Tcherepnin, 1937), Voices of Spring (mus. Strauss, 1938), and Dionysus (mus. Glazunov, 1938). He also staged Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty, and La Fille mal gardée for the Mordkin Ballet.

Subjects: Dance.

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