Russian Ballet History

Diaghilev's Ballets Russes 1909-1929

Danilova, Franklin, Slavenska and More.....

Alexandra Danilova (1904-1997)

Alexandra Danilova was born in Peterhof in 1903.  She trained with the Imperial School in St. Petersburg and upon her graduation she entered the corps de ballet of the Soviet State Ballet at the Maryinsky Theatre.  Danilova left Russia with the Soviet State Dancers, a company formed by Vladimir Dimitriev. The company performed in Berlin, Germany during their vacation from the Maryinsky, and after their tour, they defected never returning to Russia.  Direct from Berlin they went to London when where Danilova joined Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1924.

When Diaghilev died suddenly in 1929, the Ballets Russes was disbanded. Dancers were scattered and left to find other companies, but Danilova, 28 at the time, was considered too old by most companies.  She danced with an operetta, Waltzes From Vienna, but only for a year.  She was broke and unemployed when Leonide Massine offered her a position with Col. de Basil's Ballet Russe.  Soon enough certain theaters wouldn't book the Col. De Basil’s Ballet Russe without Danilova.  Then she danced with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo from 1938 until 1945. Danilova guest danced with Sadler's Wells Ballet in 1949 and London Festival Ballet 1951. Later she toured with her own group , “Great Moments of Ballet”, from 1954 to 1956.  


Danilova was never good at handling her finances and found herself broke and unemployed again when ran into Balanchine on the streets of New York City in 1964. She told him of her plight and he instantly hired her to teach at the School of American Ballet. She remained with SAB until her retirement in 1989. Danilova was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 1989.

When Danilova was asked to audition for Diaghilev she told him, "If I am good enough for the Maryinsky, then I am good enough for you."


Frederic Franklin (1914- Present)

Frederic Franklin was born in Liverpool, England, in 1914.  In 1929 when Diaghilev's Ballets Russes came to Liverpool, Freddie fell in love with Danilova and hung her picture over his bed.  He went to London to study with Lydia Kyasht, a former dancer from the Maryinsky who had toured with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in the United States.  Freddie made his debut at Casino de Paris, in a show starring Josephine Baker, in 1931.  In 1935 his big break came when he joined the Markova-Dolin Ballet Company in London.  Freddie later joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as premier danseur at the request of Leonide Massine in 1938.  While with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, Franklin danced 45 principal roles. In 1952, Freddie Franklin and ballerina Mia Slavenska formed the Slavenska-Franklin Ballet Company.  At the age of 90, he was named Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Mia Slavenska (1916 – 2002)


Mia was a famous Croatian-born prima ballerina.  A dancer since the age of four, she became the prima ballerina with the Zagreb Opera.  Mia Slavenska was born in what was Austria-Hungary, later to become the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Born as Mia Čorak, she changed the name soon after permanently leaving the country in 1937.

She studied in Zagreb under Josephine Weiss and made her debut in the Croatian National Theatre.  Mia became Prima Ballerina in Zagreb by the age of 17. At the 1936 Berlin Dance Olympics, she won both the Choreography and Dance Award. She left Zagreb to study in Paris with Olga Preobrazenska.

For many years Mia danced with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.  She moved to U.S. in the outset of the World War II, gaining her American citizenship in 1947.   In 1950 she co-founded the Slavenska-Franklin Ballet Company, with Freddie Franklin.  In 1954, she became the prima ballerina of the Metropolitan Opera Ballet.  She opened a ballet studio in New York in 1960.  Later moving to California, she taught at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) from 1969 to 1983 and concurrently at California Institute for the Arts (CalArts) from 1970 to 1983.  Slavenska died in a California retirement home on October 5, 2002.


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