An important and influential choreographer, director, and dancer, who “helped transform the American musical theater of the ’40s and ’50s.” After graduating with honors from the University of California, Agnes de Mille gave her first solo dance recital in 1928 at the Republic Theater in New York. A year later she arranged the choreography for a revival of “The Black Crook” in Hoboken, New Jersey, and subsequently spent several years in London studying the ballet. In 1933 she arranged and staged the dances for Charles B. Cochran’s production of “Nymph Errant” at the Adelphi Theatre in London, and later returned to America to work on shows such as “Hooray for What!” and “Swinging the Dream,” and the film, ROMEO AND JULIET. In 1939 she joined the Ballet Theatre in New York and choreographed productions such as “Black Ritual,” “Three Virgins and a Devil,” and Aaron Copland’s “Rodeo.” Her work for the last-named, in which she herself danced the leading role, was highly acclaimed and led to her being hired for Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s first musical, “Oklahoma!” (1943). Her skilful blending of classical and modern dance, which enhanced and developed the show’s story, was highlighted by the “Dream Ballet” sequence, a feature that became the benchmark for many a future musical.
Agnes de Mille
- "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
- Harold Arlen
- Alfred Drake
- Oscar Hammerstein II
- E.Y. "Yip" Harburg
- Alan Jay Lerner
- Frederick Loewe
- Richard Rodgers
The list of her subsequent Broadway assignments, mainly as a choreographer, but occasionally as a director, included “One Touch of Venus” (1943), “Bloomer Girl,” “Carousel,” “Brigadoon,” “Allegro,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” “Out of This World” (1950), “Paint Your Wagon,” “The Girl in Pink Tights,” “Goldilocks,” “Juno,” “Kwamina,” “110 in the Shade,” and “Come Summer” (1969). Throughout her long and distinguished career Agnes de Mille received many awards, including two Tonys (for “Brigadoon” and “Kwamina”), and numerous other honors and citations. In her best work, her “gift for narrative dance not only told stories, but each step and gesture came out of an individualized concept of each character’s motivation. Her treatment of dancers as individual characters enabled the chorus dancers to become actors in the play.” As well as the Broadway shows, she maintained a full and satisfying career in ballet, performing, directing and choreographing, and continued to work even after suffering a stroke in 1975 that left her partially paralyzed. Her two final ballets were “The Informer” (1988) and “The Other” (1992).
DANCE TO THE PIPER, Agnes de Mille.
AND PROMENADE HOME, Agnes de Mille.
TO A YOUNG DANCER, Agnes de Mille.
BOOK OF THE DANCE, Agnes de Mille
SPEAK TO ME, DANCE WITH ME, Agnes de Mille.
NO INTERMISSIONS, Carol Easton.
Source: Biographical information provided by MUZE. Excerpted from the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF POPULAR MUSIC, edited by Colin Larkin. © 2004 MUZE UK Ltd.
Photo credits: Photofest and Culver Pictures