Agnes de Mille
Agnes George de Mille was an American dancer and choreographer.

Early years

Agnes de Mille was born in New York City into a well-connected family of theater professionals. Her father William C. deMille
William C. DeMille
Willam C. deMille was an American screenwriter and film director from the silent movie era through the early 1930s. He was also a noted playwright prior to moving into film. Once he was established in film he specialized in adapting Broadway plays into silent films...

 and her uncle Cecil B. DeMille
Cecil B. DeMille
Cecil Blount DeMille was an American film director and Academy Award-winning film producer in both silent and sound films. He was renowned for the flamboyance and showmanship of his movies...

 were both Hollywood directors. She was the granddaughter of economist Henry George
Henry George
Henry George was an American writer, politician and political economist, who was the most influential proponent of the land value tax, also known as the "single tax" on land...


She had a love for acting and originally wanted to be an actress, but was told that she was 'not pretty enough', so she turned her attention to dance. As a child, she had longed to dance, but dance at this time was considered more of an activity, rather than a viable career option, so her parents refused to allow her to dance. When de Mille's younger sister was prescribed ballet classes to cure her flat feet, de Mille joined her. De Mille lacked flexibility and technique, though, and did not have a dancer's body. Classical ballet was the most widely known dance form at this time, and de Mille's apparent lack of ability limited her opportunities. She taught herself from watching film stars on the set with her father in Hollywood; these were more interesting for her to watch than perfectly turned out legs, and she developed strong character work and compelling performances. One of de Mille’s earliest jobs, thanks to her father’s connections, was choreographing the film Cleopatra in 1934, though the dances were later cut from the film. She appeared in The Ragamuffin in 1916, which was her first job.

De Mille graduated from UCLA
University of California, Los Angeles
The University of California, Los Angeles is a public research university located in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, USA. It was founded in 1919 as the "Southern Branch" of the University of California and is the second oldest of the ten campuses...

 where she was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta
Kappa Alpha Theta
Kappa Alpha Theta , also known as Theta, is an international fraternity for women founded on January 27, 1870 at DePauw University, formerly Indiana Asbury...

 sorority, and in 1933 moved to London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 to study with Dame Marie Rambert, eventually joining Rambert's company, The Ballet Club, later Ballet Rambert, and Antony Tudor
Antony Tudor
Antony Tudor was an English ballet choreographer, teacher and dancer.-Biography:Tudor, born William Cook, discovered dance accidentally. He began dancing professionally with Marie Rambert in 1928, becoming general assistant for her Ballet Club the next year...

's London Ballet.


De Mille began her association with the fledgling American Ballet Theatre
American Ballet Theatre
American Ballet Theatre , based in New York City, was one of the foremost ballet companies of the 20th century. It continues as a leading dance company in the world today...

 (then called the Ballet Theatre) in 1939, but her first significant work, Rodeo (1942) with the score by Aaron Copland
Aaron Copland
Aaron Copland was an American composer, composition teacher, writer, and later in his career a conductor of his own and other American music. He was instrumental in forging a distinctly American style of composition, and is often referred to as "the Dean of American Composers"...

, was staged for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo
Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo
Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo was a ballet company created by members of the Ballets Russes de Monte-Carlo in 1938 after Léonide Massine and René Blum had a falling-out with the co-founder Wassily de Basil...

. Although de Mille continued to choreograph nearly up to the time of her death—her final ballet, The Other
The Other
The Other is a 1972 psychological horror film directed by Robert Mulligan, adapted for film by Tom Tryon, from his bestselling novel. It stars Uta Hagen, Diana Muldaur, and Chris & Martin Udvarnoky.-Plot:...

, was completed in 1992—most of her later works have dropped out of the ballet repertoire. Besides Rodeo
Rodeo is a competitive sport which arose out of the working practices of cattle herding in Spain, Mexico, and later the United States, Canada, South America and Australia. It was based on the skills required of the working vaqueros and later, cowboys, in what today is the western United States,...

, two other de Mille ballets are performed on a regular basis, Three Virgins and a Devil (1934) adapted from a tale by Giovanni Boccaccio
Giovanni Boccaccio
Giovanni Boccaccio was an Italian author and poet, a friend, student, and correspondent of Petrarch, an important Renaissance humanist and the author of a number of notable works including the Decameron, On Famous Women, and his poetry in the Italian vernacular...

, and Fall River Legend
Fall River Legend
Fall River Legend is a ballet based on the life of Lizzie Borden. One of choreographer Agnes de Mille's best-known works, it featured an original score by Morton Gould, lighting design by Jean Rosenthal and scenic design by Oliver Smith....

(1948) based on the life of Lizzie Borden.

On the strength of Rodeo
Rodeo is a competitive sport which arose out of the working practices of cattle herding in Spain, Mexico, and later the United States, Canada, South America and Australia. It was based on the skills required of the working vaqueros and later, cowboys, in what today is the western United States,...

, de Mille was hired to choreograph the musical show Oklahoma!
Oklahoma! is the first musical written by composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. The musical is based on Lynn Riggs' 1931 play, Green Grow the Lilacs. Set in Oklahoma Territory outside the town of Claremore in 1906, it tells the story of cowboy Curly McLain and his romance...

(1943). The dream ballet, in which dancers Marc Platt
Marc Platt (dancer)
Marc Platt is an American ballet dancer and musical theatre performer.Platt was trained by the influential teacher Mary Ann Wells...

, Katherine Sergava, and George Church doubled for the leading actors, successfully integrated dance into the musical's plot. Instead of functioning as an interlude or divertissement, the ballet provided key insights into the heroine's emotional troubles. De Mille went on to choreograph over a dozen other musicals, most notably Bloomer Girl
Bloomer Girl
Bloomer Girl was a Broadway musical that premiered on October 4, 1944. Sig Herzig and Fred Saidy wrote the book, Harold Arlen the music, and E.Y. Harburg the lyrics. Agnes de Mille was the choreographer...

(1944), Carousel
Carousel (musical)
Carousel is the second stage musical by the team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II . The work premiered in 1945 and was adapted from Ferenc Molnár's 1909 play Liliom, transplanting its Budapest setting to the Maine coastline...

(1945), Brigadoon (1947), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (musical)
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a musical with a book by Joseph Fields and Anita Loos, lyrics by Leo Robin, and music by Jule Styne, based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Loos...

(1949), Paint Your Wagon (1951), The Girl in Pink Tights
The Girl in Pink Tights
The Girl in Pink Tights is a musical comedy with music by Sigmund Romberg; lyrics by Leo Robin; and a musical book by Jerome Chodorov and Joseph Fields. The musical opened on Broadway on March 5, 1954 at the Mark Hellinger Theatre where it ran for a total of 115 performances until it closed on June...

(1954), Goldilocks (1957), and 110 in the Shade
110 in the Shade
110 in the Shade is a musical with a book by N. Richard Nash, lyrics by Tom Jones, and music by Harvey Schmidt.Based on Nash's 1954 play The Rainmaker, it focuses on Lizzie Curry, a spinster living on a ranch in the American southwest, and her relationships with local sheriff File, a cautious...


De Mille's success on Broadway did not translate into success in Hollywood. Her only significant film credit is Oklahoma! (1955). She was not invited to recreate her choreography for either Brigadoon or Carousel. Nevertheless, her two specials for the TV series Omnibus, "The Art of Ballet" and "The Art of Choreography" (both televised in 1956), were immediately recognized as landmark attempts to bring serious dance to the attention of a broad public.

Her love for acting played a very important role in her choreography. De Mille revolutionized musical theatre by creating choreography which not only conveyed the emotional dimensions of the characters but enhanced the plot. Her choreography, as a reflection of her awareness of acting, reflected the angst and turmoil of the characters instead of simply focusing on a dancer's physical technique.

De Mille regularly worked with a recognizable core group of dancers, including Virginia Bosler, Gemze de Lappe
Gemze de Lappe
Gemze de Lappe is an American dancer who worked very closely with Agnes de Mille and was frequently partnered by de Mille's favorite male dancer, James Mitchell....

, Lidija Franklin
Lidija Franklin
Lidija Franklin is a dancer and teacher of Latvian descent, originally from the Moscow area. In the United States, she is known primarily for her association with Agnes de Mille.-Performances:...

, Jean Houloose, Dania Krupska
Dania Krupska
Dania Krupska is a Tony Award-nominated dancer and choreographer.Krupska originally trained for the ballet and began her professional career in the 1930s in such companies as the Philadelphia Ballet...

, Bambi Linn
Bambi Linn
Bambi Linn is an American dancer, choreographer, and actress.Linn trained extensively with noted choreographer Agnes de Mille. At the age of seventeen, she made her Broadway debut in the original production of Oklahoma!...

, Joan McCracken
Joan McCracken
Joan McCracken was an American dancer, actress, and comedian who became famous for her role as Silvie in the original 1943 production of Oklahoma!. By age 11, she was studying dance with Catherine Littlefield. She dropped out of high school to join Littlefield's ballet company...

, James Mitchell
James Mitchell (actor)
James Mitchell was an American actor and dancer. Although he is best known to television audiences as Palmer Cortlandt on the soap opera All My Children , theatre and dance historians remember him as one of Agnes de Mille's leading dancers...

, Mavis Ray, and, at American Ballet Theatre, Sallie Wilson
Sallie Wilson
Sallie Wilson was a noted ballerina who appeared with New York City Ballet where she danced opposite Martha Graham in the premiere of Graham and George Balanchine's collaboration at NYCB, Episodes in May, 1959, and subsequently with American Ballet Theatre, where she was associated with several...

. Krupska, Mitchell, and Ray served as de Mille's assistant choreographers, while de Lappe has taken an active role in preserving de Mille's work.

In 1973, de Mille founded the Agnes de Mille Dance Theatre
Agnes de Mille Dance Theatre
The Agnes de Mille Dance Theatre toured the United States from 1953 to 1954 under the aegis of producer Sol Hurok. The company offered an overview of Agnes de Mille's choreography to that date, with the addition of Anna Sokolow's "Short Lecture & Demonstration on the Evolution of Ragtime" and...

, which she later revived as Heritage Dance Theatre.

Personal life

De Mille was married on June 14, 1943 to Walter Prude. With him she had one child, Jonathan, who was born in 1946.

She suffered a stroke on stage in 1975, but recovered. She died in 1993 of a second stroke in her Greenwich Village
Greenwich Village
Greenwich Village, , , , .in New York often simply called "the Village", is a largely residential neighborhood on the west side of Lower Manhattan in New York City. A large majority of the district is home to upper middle class families...



De Mille's many awards include a Tony Award
Tony Award
The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theatre, more commonly known as a Tony Award, recognizes achievement in live Broadway theatre. The awards are presented by the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League at an annual ceremony in New York City. The awards are given for Broadway...

, the Handel Medallion for achievement in the arts (1976), an honor from the Kennedy Center (1980), a Drama Desk Special Award
Drama Desk Special Award
The Drama Desk Special Award is presented by the Drama Desk, a committee comprising New York City theatre critics, writers, and editors. It is a non-competitive award that honors an individual or an organization that has made a significant contribution to Broadway, off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway,...

 (1986) and, in 1986, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts
National Medal of Arts
The National Medal of Arts is an award and title created by the United States Congress in 1984, for the purpose of honoring artists and patrons of the arts. It is the highest honor conferred to an individual artist on behalf of the people. Honorees are selected by the National Endowment for the...


De Mille was a lifelong friend of modern dance
Modern dance
Modern dance is a dance form developed in the early 20th century. Although the term Modern dance has also been applied to a category of 20th Century ballroom dances, Modern dance as a term usually refers to 20th century concert dance.-Intro:...

 legend Martha Graham
Martha Graham
Martha Graham was an American modern dancer and choreographer whose influence on dance has been compared with the influence Picasso had on modern visual arts, Stravinsky had on music, or Frank Lloyd Wright had on architecture.She danced and choreographed for over seventy years...

. The publisher of many books about dance, de Mille, in 1992, published Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham, a biography of Graham that de Mille worked on for more than thirty years.

At present, the only commercially available examples of de Mille's choreography are parts one and two of Rodeo by the American Ballet Theater, Fall River Legend (filmed in 1989 by the Dance Theatre of Harlem
Dance Theatre of Harlem
Dance Theatre of Harlem is a ballet company and school of the allied arts founded in Harlem, New York City, USA in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook...

) and Oklahoma!

De Mille was inducted into the National Museum of Dance C.V. Whitney Hall of Fame
National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame
The National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame, in the Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga, New York, was established in 1986 and is the only museum in the nation dedicated entirely to dance. It contains photographs, videos, artifacts, costumes and biographies. The museum is located in the former and...

 in 1987.

External links

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