Today, Misty Copeland was named Principal Ballerina at American Ballet Theatre, the first Black ballerina in the company’s 75 year history. The photo on the right is Ms. Copeland being congratulated by one of her idols, Raven Wilkinson. Ms. Wilkinson was the first Black woman to dance full-time with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1955 - but racism stunted much of her career in the United States. The photo on the right was taken by Gene Schiavone. The photo of Ms. Wilkinson in the 1950s was provided by her to Pointe Magazine
Maria Tallchief as Eurydice in Balanchine’s Orpheus (c.1948). George Balanchine Trust/New York City Ballet Archives.
When Tallchief arrived in Paris in 1947 to join her new husband, George Balanchine, the Paris Opera, where she was to perform several ballets, was in a state of nervous decline. She was barely 22 and as yet unknown, a half-Osage Indian who had studied ballet with Russian émigré dancers and joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as it toured America. And now she was dancing for Balanchine.
Before Misty Copeland made history as the first African-American woman to become a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, Janet Collins set the stage in 1951 as the first Black artist to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House.
Though Collins broke down barriers, she did not do so without confronting racism along the way. In 1932, while in her late teenage years, she auditioned with Leonide Massine for the prestigious Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. He was more than happy to hire her, but only under one condition - she had to cover her face and body in white makeup in order to perform. Collins refused his offer, instead choosing to dance with Katherine Dunham’s company.
By 1947, she secured her first solo concert in Los Angeles, receiving rave reviews for her performance. She would repeat this success in New York City, with critic John Martin describing her in The New York Times as the “most exciting young dancer who has flashed across the current scene in a long time”. Soon after, she was hired to dance on Broadway in Cole Porter’s Out of This World, taking the role that would inspire the Metropolitan Opera to hire her for their 1951 production of Aida.
Collins performed additional roles at the Met in Carmen, La Gioconda and Samson and Delilah, eventually retiring in 1954 to focus on teaching and choreography. She disappeared from the public eye in her later life, during which she devoted herself to completing religious paintings.
In June 2014, Karyn Parsons of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce an animated short film about Collins’ journey. The finished product, entitled Dancing in the Light: The Janet Collins Story, is now available for streaming on Netflix.
Although she is best known as
a ballerina, Yvonne Chouteau began her career as a Shawnee dancer. An experienced powwow dancer by the age of
three, Yvonne was introduced to a wider audience when she performed at
festivities celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Oklahoma’s statehood in 1932. Yvonne quickly became a sough after
performer, appearing at the World’s Fairs in Chicago, New York, and San
At age five, Yvonne began
studying ballet. At age 12, she won a
scholarship to the American School of Ballet in New York City. Two years later, she joined the Ballet Russe
de Monte Carlo as the company’s youngest ever dancer.
After performing around the
world with the Ballet Russe, Yvonne returned to Oklahoma with her husband
Miguel Terekhov. The couple founded both
the Oklahoma City Ballet and the dance program at the University of Oklahoma, the
first fully accredited university dance program in the United States.
Yvonne Craig passed away today. As the original Batgirl actress, she was the first female hero on screen, introducing the idea of superheroines in a fun way just as feminism was about to become a greater part of the culture. She even used that platform to star in a Department of Labor Equal Pay PSA! (Watch it, I’ll wait here…) Followers know I love Craig-inspired Batgirl art and the Batman ‘66 comic version of Batgirl, also based on her portrayal.
I’m part of the BTAS generation, but thanks to reruns, my childhood composite image of Batgirl was heavily influenced by Yvonne Craig as well. And while childhood me already loved anything Batgirl and had a thing for purple, I can now see elements to Yvonne Craig’s performance that my adult self still looks for in favorite female characters.
The show was fun and delightfully campy, of course, but Craig’s Batgirl was also the super smart librarian who often figured out some crucial piece of information and foiled the villain’s plot. Being smart was shown as a superheroine’s real power- a power that could best both male physical strength and material resources.
She took part in those “boom! pow!” fight scenes, too, but it was very graceful and ballet-like, as were many of Craig’s movements on screen. Before becoming an actress, Yvonne Craig was in fact a professional ballerina with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. (The ballet training currently in canon Batgirl’s background is a lovely nod to the actress.)
You would never confuse Craig’s Batgirl for one of the guys. She would never make you think being graceful was something to be ashamed of. One of the enduring things about every version of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl is that she is unapologetic in being both an intelligent and a feminine character, even during times when that combination is unpopular in media. And for that, our original thanks should go to Yvonne Craig, who so charmingly managed to show both.
Portrait of the Ballerina Natalie Krassovska (1934). Savely Sorine (Russian, 1878-1953). Watercolour, heightened with white, coloured crayons and pencil on paper, laid on canvas.
Krassovska joined the Ballet Russe de Paris in 1935 and René Blum’s Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1936. In 1938, she became a member of the Massine-Denham Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. During her time with the troupe, Krassovska worked closely with Mikhail Fokine who coached her for roles in Les Sylphides, Le Spectre de la Rose and other ballets. She advanced to the position of principal dancer.
Alicia Markova was born in London 1910. Her original name was Lilian Alicia Marks. Alicia Markova joined Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes when she was only 14 years old, she was widely considered to be one of the greatest classical ballet dancers of the 20th century and was the first British dancer to become the principal dancer of a ballet company and, with Margot Fonteyn, is one of only two English Dancers to be recognised as a Prima Ballerina Assoluta. Danced with the Vic-Wells Ballet 1931-1935 (now the Royal Ballet), becoming its first prima ballerina in 1933. She was the first British ballerina to dance Giselle and Odette-Odile. In 1935 she formed a company with Anton Dolin. Joined Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (1938-1941) and American Ballet Theatre (1941-1946). With Anton Dolin she toured worldwide. Returned to the Royal Ballet as guest in 1948 where she danced her first full-lenght Sleeping Beauty.
Photo (2-4) by Baron
Photo (5-6) by Gordon Anthony
Photo (7) : Alicia Markova in the Haunted Ballroom (1934)
Photo (8) : Alicia Markova partnered with Stanley Judson in the first full-length “Nutcracker” outside of Russia. London, 1934
The recently passed Ivonne Chouteau. She danced in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and was one of the few famous Native American ballerinas of the 20th century. Photo courtesy of NewsOk from the Daily Oklahoman, circa 1956, via Pointe magazine’s Facebook page.
Karyn Parsons AKA Hillary Banks createda Kickstarter to raise money for an educational animated short called “The Janet Collins Story.” Janet Collins was the first African American ballerina to perform solo at the Metropolitan Opera. When Collins was 15 years old, the company Ballet Russes De Monte-Carlo offered to give her a dance position in the company only if she performed in whiteface. She turned it down, and later became a celebrated Prima Ballerina at a time when this was unheard of. She also won awards for her dancing on Broadway including the 1950 title of Best Dancer on Broadway. Chris Rock will narrate the story.
The animated short will be produce by Sweet Blackberry’s founded by Karyn herself whose mission is to is to bring little known stories of African American achievement to children everywhere. Previous films by Sweet Blackberry have received the prestigious Parent’s Choice Award and Learning Magazine’s Teacher’s Choice Awards, among others.