Mordkin, Mikhail, 1881-1944

Alternative names

Hide Profile

Russian-born ballet dancer who performed with the Ballets Russes and Anna Pavlova and later founded the Mordkin School of Dance in New York.

From the description of Papers, ca.1885-1979. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122408583

Mikhail Mikhailovich Mordkin, Russian dancer and teacher, was born in Moscow on December 9, 1880 into the family of the violinist of the Imperial Theatres. At the age of nine he entered Moscow Imperial Ballet School. Upon graduation in 1900, he was accepted to the company as a soloist. Soon after, he was promoted to premier danseur, the highest rank in the company, and was featured in practically every leading role of the company's repertory, especially character parts. At the same time, in his early twenties, he began his teaching career at the Ballet School in Moscow, and the first Russian private schools of dance and “plastic movement.”

Even from his school days Mordkin established himself as an artist of an unusual expressiveness and passion. However, his technique was frequently criticized as not purely classical and even shaky. But the classical technique itself was not Mordkin's concern. His ambition was to render deep emotions that went far beyond the limitations of ballet traditions of the time, and to make his technique serve the purposes of portraying the character. In his performances he challenged dramatic standards of male dancing by enhancing his characters with deep feelings, rather than gallant manners, and with detailed characterization, rather than beautiful posing and partnering.

Mikhail Mordkin was among the first Russian dancers to perform outside Russia. At the invitation of Kaiser Wilhelm he organized a short season in Berlin in the summer of 1908 (?), even before Diagilev's company opened its first season in Paris.

On the opening night of Ballets Russes in Paris in 1909, Mordkin danced the leading role in Michael Fokine's Le Pavillon d'Armide, and that same year he appeared as Anna Pavlova's partner in London and the United States. His personal success was equal to Pavlova's and their partnership was one of the most significant of the century.

During the next several years Mordkin organized two major tours to the United States with the All-Star Russian Imperial Ballet company; retired from and came back to the Imperial Theatres; staged a number of concert dances and small [UNK]; opened his own private ballet school in Moscow; and continued performing regularly.

After the outbreak of the October Revolution Mordkin pursued many of the same activities. He danced at the Bolshoi Theatre, organized tours all over Russia, taught, and staged ballets and concert dances. However, the growing chaos and famine of the 1920s made him look for ways of escaping Russia. In the fall of 1924, he finally obtained permission to leave for a tour to the United States. He never returned to Russia.

In 1927, Mikhail Mordkin opened the Mordkin School of Dance in the Carnegie Hall building in New York City, offering “complete ballet training, mimo-drama classes, [and a] rehearsal group [that would] prepare ballets for performances.” This group, the Mikhail Mordkin Ballet, was an outlet for advanced students (with Mikhail Mordkin himself dancing main character parts). On December 19, 1936, the company presented Sleeping Beauty, sponsored by the Woman's Club of Waterbury, Connecticut, with Lucia Chase and Dimitri Romanoff in the leading roles.

Plans for the student company became more ambitious. Advance Productions, with Lucia Chase as the major stockholder, was incorporated in March 1937, to sponsor the company. The Mordkin Ballet began to tour nationwide with a small repertory of ballets choreographed by Mordkin. In 1938, the company was reorganized under Advanced Arts, Inc., with Rudolf Orthwine as president. Richard Pleasant managed the school and was later made secretary of the organization. A more professional Mordkin Ballet emerged, hiring such noted dancers as Patricia Bowman, Nina Stroganova, Karen Conrad, Edward Caton, and Vladimir Dokoudovsky. The company continued to tour with Mordkin's ballets, however, many new ideas were developing. Chase and Pleasant began to plan a larger company, with more choreographers and dancers, and different artistic goals. In September of 1939, the nucleus of the Mordkin Ballet was reorganized into Ballet Theatre. Mikhail Mordkin was informed that he was no longer needed to teach or choreograph for the company, and only one of his ballets was ever produced by Ballet Theatre.

Mordkin returned to teaching at his Carnegie Hall studio.

Once his popularity as a dancer was enormous, he was one of the first male ballet stars of Russia, but it is as a teacher that he is best remembered in the United States. He possessed a “vivid personality” with the ability to “transmit something of the true spirit of the dance,” and he tried to bring out special qualities in each of his students.

Mordkin died in New York City on July 15, 1944.

Mikhail Mordkin's wife, Bronislava Avgustovna Mordkin (nee Pozhitskaia), was born in Warsaw, Poland, part of Imperial Russia at that time, some time between March 23 and April 4, 1881. She studied ballet at Moscow Imperial Ballet School, and upon graduation in 1900 was accepted as a member of the Imperial Ballet company. In 1912, she married Mikhail Mordkin. She performed as a soloist in his tour companies in London and US. Together with her husband, she came to New York in 1924. She Worked as a teacher of mime and character dancing in Mordkin School of Dance, and after Mordkin's death in 1944 continued teaching up to the late 1960s, including at the Ballet Department of Riverside Museum in New York City.

She also outlived her son, Michael Mordkin, Jr., born in 1914 and died on March 3, 1978.

Bronislava Pozhitskaia died in New York on July 27, 1979, at the age of 98.

From the guide to the Mikhail Mordkin papers, circa 1885-1979, (The New York Public Library. Jerome Robbins Dance Division.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Danielian, Leon, 1920-1997,. Interview with Leon Danielian. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
referencedIn American Ballet Theatre records, 1936-ca. 1967 The New York Public Library. Jerome Robbins Dance Division.
referencedIn Mordkin Ballet Company. [Programs] New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
referencedIn Chase, Lucia, 1897-1986,. Interview with Lucia Chase. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
creatorOf Gi︠u︡telʹ, I. U. Aziade : balet v. 1er deistviĭ / sor. I.U. Gi︠u︡telʹ. New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Mordkin, Mikhail, 1881-1944. [Clippings] New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
referencedIn Danielian, Leon, 1920-1997,. Interview with Leon Danielian. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
referencedIn King, Eleanor. Papers. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
creatorOf Mordkin, Mikhail, 1881-1944. Autographed program. 1 item. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
referencedIn American Ballet Theatre. Records, New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
creatorOf Danielian, Leon, 1920-1997. Leon Danielian papers, 1930-1994. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Leon Danielian papers, 1930-1994 The New York Public Library. Jerome Robbins Dance Division.
referencedIn Stravinsky-Diaghilev Foundation research files, 1920-1989. Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.
referencedIn Mordkin Ballet Company. Scrapbooks: U.S. and Canadian tour. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
referencedIn American Ballet Theatre records, 1936-ca. 1967 The New York Public Library. Jerome Robbins Dance Division.
referencedIn Toscanini, Walter, 1898-1971,. The Walter Toscanini Collection of research materials in dance: L. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Mikhail Mordkin School of the Dance, New York. [Catalogs, announcements, etc.] New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
referencedIn Butsova, Hilda,. Interview with Hilda Butsova. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
creatorOf Mordkin, Mikhail, 1881-1944. Papers, ca.1885-1979. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Moore, Lillian. Metropolitan Opera solo dancers and choreographers, [1883-1932]. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
referencedIn Mordkin Ballet Company. Scrapbook: Press clippings and programs. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
creatorOf Mordkin, Mikhail, 1881-1944. Correspondence and contracts. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
referencedIn Sproule, Ann. Scrapbooks: Clippings, programs, and photographs, New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
referencedIn Saddler, Donald,. Interview with Donald Saddler. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
creatorOf Mikhail Mordkin papers, circa 1885-1979 The New York Public Library. Jerome Robbins Dance Division.
referencedIn Walter Terry papers, 1913-1982 The New York Public Library. Jerome Robbins Dance Division.
referencedIn All Star Imperial Russian Ballet. [Programs] New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
referencedIn Haakon, Paul,. Interview with Paul Haakon. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
referencedIn Howard D. Rothschild collection on, Ballets Russes, of Serge Diaghilev: Photographs and scrapbooks, 1909-1975. Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.
referencedIn American Vaudeville Museum collection, 1845-2007, (bulk 1910-1940) University of Arizona Libraries, Library Special Collections
referencedIn Imperial Russian Ballet. [Programs] New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
referencedIn King, Eleanor. Papers, 1931-1991. New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Mordkin, Mikhail, 1881-1944. Miscellaneous manuscripts. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith All Star Imperial Russian Ballet. corporateBody
associatedWith All Star Imperial Russian Ballet. corporateBody
associatedWith American Ballet Theatre. corporateBody
associatedWith American Museum of Vaudeville corporateBody
associatedWith Ballet Theatre. corporateBody
associatedWith Ballet Theatre (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Butsova, Hilda, person
associatedWith Chase, Lucia, 1897-1986. person
associatedWith Cullen, Frank, 1936- person
associatedWith Danielian, Leon, 1920-1997, person
associatedWith Gi︠u︡telʹ, I. U. person
associatedWith Haakon, Paul, person
associatedWith Howard D. Rothschild, collector. person
associatedWith Imperial Russian Ballet. corporateBody
associatedWith King, Eleanor. person
associatedWith Loring, Eugene, 1914- person
associatedWith McNeilly, Donald, 1945- person
associatedWith Mikhail Mordkin School of the Dance, New York. corporateBody
associatedWith Mikhail Mordkin School of the Dance, New York. corporateBody
associatedWith Mikhail Mordkin School of the Dance (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Moore, Lillian. person
associatedWith Mordkin Ballet Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Pavlova, Anna, 1881-1931. person
associatedWith Pleasant, Richard, 1909-1961. person
associatedWith Pozhit︠s︡kai︠a︡, Bronislava Avgustovna. person
associatedWith Saddler, Donald, person
associatedWith Sproule, Ann. person
associatedWith Stravinsky-Diaghilev Foundation. corporateBody
associatedWith Terry, Walter person
associatedWith Toscanini, Walter, 1898-1971, person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Subject
Manuscripts--Collections
Occupation
Choreographer
Ballet dancers
Function

Person

Birth 1881-12-21

Death 1944-07-15

Americans

English,

Russian,

French

Information

Permalink: http://n2t.net/ark:/99166/w6c82bx0

Ark ID: w6c82bx0

SNAC ID: 63944996