Mikhail Mordkin (1880-1944)

Mikhail Mordkin (1880-1944)

Two of the male stars of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1909 were Adolph Bolm (1884-1951) and Mikhail Mordkin. Bolm was a student at the Imperial School in St. Petersburg and Mordkin was trained at the Bolshoi, in Moscow. They both joined Diaghilev for his Paris season as leading dancers although they ranked above Nijinsky. Diaghilev made sure that the press wrote more about his young favorite.

Mikhail Mordkin graduated from the Bolshoi Ballet School in 1899, and in the same year was appointed ballet master. He joined Diaghilev's ballet in 1909 as a leading dancer. After the first season he remained in Paris to dance with Pavlova. He then formed his own company, All Star Imperial Russian Ballet, which toured America in 1911 and 1912. Mikhail returned to the Bolshoi and was appointed its director in 1917.

Mordkin left Russia after the October Revolution, first working in Lithuania, and finally settling in the United States in 1924. He founded the Mordkin Ballet in 1926, for which he choreographed a complete Swan Lake and many other ballets. His company included such distinguished artists as Hilda Butsova, Felia Doubrovska, Pierre Vladimiroff, and Nicholas Zvereff. After a European tour the company disbanded in 1926. Mordkin continued to be a freelance artist and teacher. From among his students in America he formed a new Mordkin Ballet in 1937, the forerunner of Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre). His student Lucia Chase helped finance his company and after the first season of Ballet Theatre, she and Richard Pleasant took over the management from Mordkin because they thought his plans lacked ambition. Although he had been pushed into the background, Mordkin, like Bolm, helped build the foundation for ballet in America.

(First published April 1995)

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