Massine, Léonide, 1896-1979

Alternative names
Birth 1896-08-08
Death 1979-03-16
English, Russian, French

Biographical notes:

Leonide Feodorovitch Miassin (Massine) was born in Moscow in 1896. His mother, Eugenia, was a soprano in the Bolshoi Theatre chorus, and his father, Feodor, played French horn in the Bolshoi Theatre orchestra. Massine's parents had a daughter, Raissa, and three other sons. Although all of his brothers were engineers, Massine entered the Imperial Theatre School at age 8, studying both drama and ballet. Massine intended a career as an actor, and, in fact, was later noted for his dramatic interpretation of ballet roles. Diaghilev saw Massine in a small part at the Imperial Theatre and invited him to join the Ballets Russes company in 1913. In his autobiography, Massine called Diaghilev “an outstanding influence on my artistic career,” and credited him with nurturing Massine's view of ballet as “a fusion of music, dance, painting, poetry, and drama.” This view of ballet as a collaborative effort of the best composers and artists as well as dancers and choreographers is reflected in much of Massine's work.

After joining the Diaghilev company, Massine studied ballet with Cecchetti in Europe, and danced his first leading role in The Legend of Joseph in 1914 or 1915. The first Massine ballet, Soleil de Nuit (Midnight Sun), had its premiere a year later. The Ballets Russes tour of 1916 was Massine's first trip to the United States.

By 1920, Massine had created several important ballets, including Parade, Boutique Fantasque, Tricorne (The Three-Cornered Hat), Pulcinella, and Le Chant du Rossignol (Song of the Nightingale). In 1921, Massine married Vera Savina, another dancer with the Ballets Russes, and they left the company. Massine then formed a small company to perform in Buenos Aires, in which he and his wife appeared, and for which he staged many ballets. The Massines took an expanded version of this company on a tour of South America, at the end of which they returned to London, forming another small company and opening a ballet school. The same year, Massine purchased three islands, the Isole dei Galli, near Positano, Italy.

Massine was divorced from Savina in 1924. He rejoined Diaghilev's company as a choreographer, subsequently producing Zephire et Flore, Les Matelots, Le Pas D'Acier, and other ballets. He also choreographed ballets for Les Soirees de Paris, as well as numerous pieces for theatrical revues.

In 1928, Massine married Eugenia Delarova, a dancer he had met in Paris the previous year. Shortly after, they came to the United States, where Massine accepted a two-year engagement producing ballets for weekly shows at the Roxy Theatre in New York.

During the 1930s, Massine worked for several companies, and served as Artistic Director of the de Basil/Blum Ballets-[UNK] de Monte Carlo until 1936. Massine's first symphonic ballet, Les Presages, and his second, Choreartium, premiered in 1933. Massine later joined Serge Denham's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, which opened with the premiere of Massine's Gaite Parisienne in 1938. While touring the U.S., Massine and Delarova were divorced and Massine married his third wife, Tatiana Milishnikova (Orlova), a dancer with the company. Their daughter, Tatiana, was born in 1941.

Massine was dismissed from his position with Denham's Ballet Russe by the directors of Universal Art (sponsors of the company) in late 1941. Ensuing litigation won him property rights for most of his ballets.

Soon after leaving Ballet Russe, Massine was hired as a choreographer by the newly-formed Ballet Theatre company, for whom he produced Aleko and Mam'zelle Angot. He purchased a house in Long Beach, on Long Island, in 1942, and became a U.S. citizen in 1944. Massine's son Leonide (Lorca) was born that year.

Massine formed two small companies in the United States, Ballet Russe (Suites), which toured the U.S. in 1944-45, and Ballet Russe Highlights, which toured the country in 1945-46. He then returned to London, appearing in a play, A Bullet in the Ballet, and staging ballets for the Sadlers Wells Ballet. During the late 1940s and the 1950s, Massine spent most of his time in Europe, staging revivals of his earlier ballets and choreographing new ones, including Donald of Burthens (London, 1951), Laudes Evangelii (Perugia, 1952), Resurrezione e Vita (Venice, 1954), Usher (Buenos Aires, 1955), and Mario e il Mago (Milan, 1956). He also choreographed ballets for films, notably The Red Shoes (1948) and Tales of Hoffman (1951), in which he also appeared, and Honeymoon (1958).

In 1960, Massine served as Artistic Director to the Fifth International Festival of Ballet in Genoa, and, in 1961, he returned to the Soviet Union to film some of his ballets. He was also Artistic Advisor for a regional American company, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and taught at Point Park College in Pittsburgh during the 1970s.

During the latter part of his life, Massine became involved in developing and teaching his own methods of choreographic composition and notation. Massine's autobiography, My Life in Ballet, was published in 1968, and his second book, Massine on Choreography: Theory and Exercises in Composition, came out in 1976. Massine died in Cologne, West Germany, on March 16, 1979, at the age of 83.

From the guide to the Leonide Massine papers, 1932-1968, (The New York Public Library. Jerome Robbins Dance Division.)


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