Spotlight Saturday: Mia Slavenska

Today's Spotlight Saturday focuses on American prima ballerina Mia Slavenska.

She was born Mia Corak in Brod na Savi, in what was then Austria-Hungary (now Croatia), on 20 February 1916. She started dancing at the age of four, training with Josephine Weiss and Margarita Froman in Zagreb. She made her debut in Baranovic's ballet Licitarsko scre in 1924 with what is now the Croatian National Theatre. She became the prima ballerina of the Zagreb Opera at the age of 17.

At the 1936 Berlin dance Olympics (coinciding with the Berlin Olympic games), she won the choreography and dance award. She left for Vienna, where she trained with Leo Dubois, Krauss, and von Weiden, before moving on to Paris. At this point she changed her name to Mia Slavenska. In Paris she continued her training under Lyubov Yegorova, Mathilde Kschessinskaya, and Olga Preobrajenska, the leading Russian prima ballerinas of the previous generation (all of whom had fled to Paris following the Russian Revolution and subsequent Soviet Union).

In 1937, Slavenska starred in the French film Le Mort du Cygne, known in America as Ballerina. Her co-stars included French ballerina Yvette Chauvire and Serge Lifar, star of the Ballets Russes. It became arguably the most famous ballet film of all time, helped along by Lifar's choreography. In 1938, she joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, the successor to Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. For many years, she was their leading ballerina, creating many roles for choreographers such as Massine, Balanchine, Nijinska, Lifar, and Sir Frederick Ashton. Having toured much of the western hemisphere, she joined the company in America on the outbreak of World War II. She remained there after the war, and was naturalised in 1947.

With Frederic Franklin

Though she guest-starred with many companies (most notably visiting England in the 1950s on the invitation of Anton Dolin), she also founded companies of her own. Her first company, Ballet Variante, opened in 1944 in Hollywood. But her greatest successes where with the Slavenska Franklin Ballet Company, which she founded in 1950 with her dance partner and fellow Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo veteran Frederic Franklin. She experienced one of her last triumphs with this company, in Valerie Bettis' 1952 A Streetcar Named Desire. The ballet is still performed by Arthur Mitchells' Dance Theatre of Harlem. She was the prima ballerina of the New York Metropolitan Opera from 1954 - 1955.

In a recreation of Perrot's 'Pas de Quatre': Natalia Krassovska, Mia Slavenska, Alexandra Danilova,

and Alicia Markova (front).

She then retired from the stage, becoming a teacher. She opened a studio in New York in 1960, then taught at UCLA in Los Angeles from 1969 to 1983. She also advised several regional American ballet companies, and directed Texas' Fort Worth Civic Ballet for three seasons. She died on 5 October, 2002 in California.

From the 'Ballet Russes' reunion documentary, 2000

Thanks for reading! Next week the Spotlight will be on Sylvie Guillem.

- Selene

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