Born in Vienna (in what was then Austria-Hungary) in 1891 (although she would later shave five years off her age) to a family of Polish Jewish descent, Rasch studied at the Vienna State Opera Ballet school and became leading ballerina at the New York Hippodrome in 1911.
She formed her own dance troupe (The Albertina Rasch Girls) and the Rasch Ballet, starred in a number of Ziegfeld productions, appeared at the Moulin Rouge, performed with Josephine Baker, toured with Sarah Bernhardt, and opened a Manhattan dance studio (where Bill Robinson taught tap) before adapting her classical training and techniques for the Broadway theatre and films.
Rasch's early stage work for such projects as George White's Scandals evoked the Black Crook tradition of inserting fantasy dance sequences that had little to do with the plot between book scenes, but she soon established herself as a creative force with a routine she devised for Tilly Losch in the 1931 revue, The Band Wagon. Wearing gloves covered with blacklight paint, Losch stood in front of a mirror on a darkened stage and performed a "ballet" in which only her hands could be seen to the Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz song "Dancing in the Dark".
Rasch also helped establish Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" as a popular standard by choreographing it to an ethnic dance in Jubilee (1935). Additional Broadway credits include The Three Musketeers, Show Girl, The Bohemian Girl, The Great Waltz, and Lady in the Dark.
Rasch served as choreographer and/or dance director for a number of musical films, including The Merry Widow (1934) with Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier, Broadway Melody of 1936 (1936) with Jack Benny and Eleanor Powell, Rosalie (1937) with Powell and Nelson Eddy, The Girl of the Golden West (1938) with MacDonald and Eddy, Marie Antoinette (1938) with Norma Shearer, and Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940) with Fred Astaire.
Footage of Rasch filmed for the unfinished Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musical The March of Time (1930) was used in the MGM film Broadway to Hollywood (1933) with Frank Morgan and Alice Brady. MGM also reused her "Chinese Ballet" from Children of Pleasure (1930) in the short film Roast Beef and Movies (1934).
- Britannica Online Encyclopedia
- Albertina Rasch at BuckinghamHotel.com
- The Rise and Fall of the Broadway Musical by Mark N. Grant, published by the University Press of New England (2005), pp 252-54 ISBN 1-55553-642-5
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