Michel Fokine in Arlequin, 1914
|Native name||Михаи́л Миха́йлович Фо́кин|
|Born||Mikhaíl Mikháylovich Fokín
23 April 1880
|Died||22 August 1942
New York City, U.S
|Nationality||Russian, naturalized U.S.|
|Occupation||Ballet dancer, choreographer|
Michael Fokine (a French transliteration Michel Fokine; 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 that same year, he also made his performing debut in the ballet The Talisman under the direction of Marius Petipa. 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). Along with being a talented dancer, Fokine also had a passion for painting and displayed great talent in this area as well. He also played musical instruments: mandolin (played on stage in ensemble led by Ginislao Paris), domra and balalaika (played in Vasily Andreyev's Great Russian orchestra) Becoming frustrated with the life of a dancer, he began considering other paths including his painting. In 1902 however, he was offered a teaching position at The Imperial Ballet School. It was here that he was able to explore the artistic possibilities of choreography. Among his students were Desha Delteil and Bronislava Nijinska. In 1905 he created his first full-length ballet, Acis et Galatée, which was performed by his students and based on an ancient Sicilian legend.
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 Therefore, Fokine sought to strip ballets of their artificial miming and outdated costumes. Fokine studied Greek and Egyptian art, including vase-painting and sculpture, which aided the development of his themes.
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. 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.
In 1909, Sergei Diaghilev invited Fokine to become the resident choreographer of the first season of the Ballets Russes in Paris. Fokine's years with Ballets Russes were successful, collaborating with other artists to create a ballet of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade which premiered in 1910. This ballet was inspired by symphonic poems composed by Rimsky-Korsakov and ancient tales of 1001 nights also known as the Arabian nights. The spectacular sets designed by Léon Bakst matched the sexually charged choreography. Despite his lack of historic accuracy, the ballet was widely successful due to its brilliant colors, exoticism and sexual overtones.  (1910, featuring Vaslav Nijinsky in the role of the Golden Slave); The Firebird (1910) was also created by a "committee," a system inspired by the Wagnerian notion of Gesamtkunstwerk, which translates as the synthesis of theatrical elements like; music, drama, spectacle and dance, giving birth to a more cohesive art work. Petrushka (1912), with music composed by Igor Stravinsky and sets designs by Alexandre Benois Petrouchka was inspired by the Russian puppet which traditionally appeared at the Butter Week (Shrovetide, Pre-Lenten) Fairs. In this ballet Fokine included, street dancers, peddlers, nursemaids a performing bear and a large ensemble of characters that complemented the plot. The story was centered on the sinister Magician (Enricco Ceccetti) and his three puppets; Petrouchka (Nijinsky) the Ballerina (Karsavina) and the savage Moor (Alexander Orlov) and Daphnis et Chloé (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.
Fokine left Ballets Russes in 1912. In 1914 however, Diaghilev persuaded Fokine to return to Ballet Russes where he created the three ballets, Midas, The Legend of Joseph and Le Coq d’Or. The Paris premiere of The Golden Cockerel by Ballets Russes in 1914 was an opera-ballet, guided by Fokine with set designs by Natalia Goncharova.
The outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 disrupted the established touring circuit, which included countries now on opposing sides, and caused a number of dancers, including Fokine, to return to their own countries. He moved to Sweden with his family in 1918 and later established his home in New York City, where he founded a ballet school (1921) and continued to appear with his wife, Vera Fokina. By 1924 he organized his first company the "American Ballet" which performed regularly at the Metropolitan Opera House, and toured the principal cities of the US. His first new creation for the company was the comedy Bluebeard, set to a score by Jacques Offenbach. In addition to his success in the United States, Les Sylphides was the first ballet ever presented at the American Ballet Theatre on January 11, 1940.
In 1937, Fokine joined Col. Wassily de Basil's Ballets Russes offshoot, eventually named the Original Ballet Russe. Among the new works he created during this period were Cendrillon (1938) and Paganini (1939). Fokine's choreography was featured with the company through 1941.
Fokine staged more than 80 ballets in Europe and the United States. His best-known works were Chopiniana, (later revised as Les Sylphides), Le Carnaval (1910), and Le Pavillon d'Armide (1907). 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. In tribute to his passing, seventeen ballet companies around the world performed Les Sylphides simultaneously.
- Fokine, Michel (Author), Anatole Chujoy (Editor)(1961) Fokine: Memoirs of a Ballet Master, Little, Brown & Co
- Au, Susan (2002). Ballet and Modern Dance. New York, NY: Thames and Hudson. pp. 80–81. ISBN 9780500203521.
- Buckle, Richard (1979). Diaghilev. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson. ISBN 0-297-77506-5, p. 268.
- Beaumont, C. W., Michel Fokine and His Ballets, ISBN 1-85273-050-1
- Anderson, Jack. "DANCE VIEW; Fokine--The Undervalued Revolutionary". New York Times. 7 September 1980.
- "Michel Fokine | Russian Dancer and Choreographer." Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.
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