Michel Fokine (a French transliteration; English transliteration Mikhail Fokin; Russian: Михаи́л Миха́йлович Фо́кин, Mikhaíl Mikháylovich Fokín) (23 April [O.S. 11 April] 1880 – 22 August 1942) was a groundbreaking Russian choreographer and dancer.
Fokine was born in Saint Petersburg, as son of a prosperous, middle-class merchant and at the age of 9, he was accepted into the Saint Petersburg Imperial Ballet School (Vaganova Ballet Academy). In 1898, on his 18th birthday, he debuted on the stage of the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in Paquita, with the Imperial Russian Ballet (now the Mariinsky Ballet). In 1902, he became a teacher of the ballet school. Among his students were Desha Delteil and Bronislava Nijinska.
Fokine aspired to move beyond stereotypical ballet traditions. Virtuoso ballet techniques to him were not an end in themselves, but a means of expression. He also believed that many of the ballets of his time used costuming and mime that did not reflect the themes conveyed in the ballets. Therefore, Fokine sought to strip ballets of their artificial miming and outdated costumes. In addition, as a choreographer, he initiated a reform that took ballerinas out of their pointe shoes and also experimented with a freer use of the arms and torso. He presented his reformist ideas to the management of the Imperial theatre, but did not win their support. One such request was to have his dancers perform barefoot in his 1907 ballet "Eunice." Since his request was denied, Fokine had toes painted on the dancers' tights so they would appear to be barefoot. Some of his early works include the ballet Acis and Galatea (1905) and The Dying Swan (1907), which was a solo dance for Anna Pavlova, choreographed to the music of Le Cygne. Fokine's 1905 ballet "Acis and Galetea" included an acrobatic dance with young boys playing fauns; one of those boys was Vaslav Nijinsky. Fokine later featured Nijinsky in a number of ballets, including "Chopiniana" (1907), ultimately renamed "Les Sylphides" in 1909.
Fokine studied Greek and Egyptian art, including vase-painting and sculpture, which aided the development of his themes.
In 1909, Sergei Diaghilev invited Fokine to become the choreographer of his Ballets Russes in Paris. However, Fokine broke off the collaboration in 1912, jealous of Diaghilev's close association with Vaslav Nijinsky. Fokine's years with Ballet Russes were successful, collaborating with other artists to create "Scheherazade" ( 1910, featuring Nijinslky in the role of the Golden Slave); "The Firebird" (1910); and "Petrouchka" (1912). Fokine's ballet "Le Spectre de la Rose" (1911) showcased Nijinsky as the spirit of the rose given to a young girl. His exit featured a grand jeté out of the young girl's bedroom window, timed so the audience would last see him suspended in mid-air.
The Paris premiere of the opera The Golden Cockerel in 1914 was an Opera-Ballet, with Fokine.
He moved to Sweden with his family in 1918 and later established his home in New York City, where he founded a ballet school and continued to appear with his wife, Vera Fokina. He became a United States citizen in 1932.
Fokine staged more than 70 ballets in Europe and the United States. His best known works were Chopiniana (later revised as Les Sylphides), Le Carnaval and Le Pavillon d'Armide. Among his works for the Ballets Russes were The Firebird, Petrushka, Le Spectre de la Rose and Daphnis et Chloé. Also, for the Ballets Russes, he created a ballet out of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. His pieces are still performed by the leading ballet troupes of the world, the Mariinsky Ballet having performed a retrospective of his works at London's Covent Garden in late July 2011.
Fokine died in New York on 22 August 1942.
See also 
- Beaumont, C. W., Michel Fokine and His Ballets, ISBN 1-85273-050-1
- Fokine, Michel, 1880-1942. Papers: Guide. in the Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
- Fokine, Michel (1880 - 1942) at Australia Dancing
- The Fokine Estate archive