de Mille, Agnes

de Mille, Agnes

(Agnes George de Mille) (də mĭl), 1905–93, American choreographer and dancer, b. New York City; granddaughter of Henry GeorgeGeorge, Henry,
1839–97, American economist, founder of the single tax movement, b. Philadelphia. Of a poor family, his formal education was cut short at 14, and in 1857 he emigrated to California; there he worked at various occupations before turning to newspaper writing
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, daughter of playwright director W. C. de Mille, and niece of Cecil B. De MilleDe Mille, Cecil B.
(Cecil Blount De Mille), 1881–1959, American movie director and producer, b. Ashfield, Mass. In 1914, together with Samuel Goldwyn, he made the first feature-length film in Hollywood, The Squaw Man.
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. After her concert debut in 1928, she went to London and worked with Antony TudorTudor, Antony,
1909–87, English choreographer and dancer. Tudor went to the United States at the invitation of the Ballet Theatre, New York City (1939); he danced leading roles and created ballets for several English and American companies and was later the artistic
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 at Marie RambertRambert, Dame Marie,
1888–1982, a founder of the English ballet, b. Warsaw as Miriam Rambam. Trained by Jacques Dalcroze in eurythmics, Rambert joined the Diaghilev's Ballets Russes as an instructor in 1913.
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's Ballet Club. At the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, she created her first important ballet, Rodeo (1942), which included tap dancing and movements reminiscent of the American West.

De Mille brought ballet form to musical comedy, using dance to enhance the plot and move the story along, first in Oklahoma! (1943), and later in such musicals as Bloomer Girl (1944), Carousel (1945), Brigadoon (1947), and Paint Your Wagon (1951). She created dances for the American Ballet TheatreAmerican Ballet Theatre
(ABT), one of the foremost international dance companies of the 20th and 21st cents. It was founded in 1937 as the Mordkin Ballet and reorganized as the Ballet Theatre in 1940 under the direction (1940–80) of Lucia Chase and Oliver Smith.
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, notably Fall River Legend (1948), and for films. Choreographing some 15 musicals and 21 ballets, she was a significant force in a new American realism that mingled ballet technique, vernacular movement, and modern psychology.

Although there was more sentimental pleasantness than true originality in de Mille's choreography, her works did much to popularize serious dance with the public. In addition, she was an important spokesperson for governmental and private support for the arts at congressional hearings and other public forums. In 1973 de Mille founded the Heritage Dance Theater, which was based at the North Carolina School of the Arts. A talented writer, de Mille was the author of 12 books including To a Young Dancer (1962), The Book of the Dance (1963), and Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham (1991).


See her autobiographies, Dance to the Piper (1952), And Promenade Home (1958), Speak to Me, Dance with Me (1973), and Where the Wings Grow (1978); anthology of her writings, Leaps in the Dark (2011), ed. by M. Aloff; C. Easton, No Intermissions: The Life of Agnes de Mille (1995).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

De Mille, Agnes


Born 1909 in New York. American dancer and choreographer.

Agnes De Mille graduated from the University of California. She studied dance under F. M. Kozlov, M. Rambert, A. Tudor, and other teachers. In 1929 she made her stage debut and from 1938 to 1956 (with intervals) was prima ballerina of the Ballet Rambert (Great Britain) and Ballet Theater (USA). The founder and director of the Agnes De Mille Dance Theater (1953-54), she began her choreographic work in 1940. Her choreography is characterized by the use of ethnic dances (especially from American folklore) as the basis of choreographic dramaturgy. The best known ballet staged by A. De Mille is Copland’s Rodeo. It has been in the repertoire of ballet companies since 1942; in 1960 it was performed in the USSR by the American Ballet Theater. Among the ballets she has staged are Three Virgins and the Devil to music by Respighi (1941); Gould’s Fall River Legend (1948); Bitter Weird to Loewe’s music arranged by Rittmann (1953); Rosenthal’s The Wind in the Mountains (1965); Four Marys to music arranged by Rittmann (1965); and Golden Age to Rossini’s music arranged by Pitot (1967). A. De Mille had a great influence on the development of the musical; she staged the dances in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma (1943) and other musicals.


Dance to the Piper. New York, 1952.
And Promenade Home. New York, 1958.
To a Young Dancer…. Toronto, 1962.
The Book of the Dance. New York, 1963.
Lizzie Borden. New York, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

de Mille, Agnes (George)

(1905–93) choreographer; born in New York City. The daughter of the playwright William C. de Mille and niece of movie producer Cecil B. De Mille, she made her dancing debut in 1928. During the 1930s she worked in America and Europe as a dancer and actress. In 1936 she had her first commission as a choreographer, creating the dance sequences for an English film version of Romeo and Juliet. This led to her joining the New York Ballet Theater, for which she choreographed Rodeo (1942). In the 1940s she choreographed a series of hits both on Broadway and in the subsequent films, including Oklahoma! (1943), Carousel (1945), Brigadoon (1947), and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1949). She founded her own ballet company, toured widely, and was regarded as one of the preeminent 20th-century American choreographers. Her books include Dance to the Piper (1952) and The Book of the Dance (1963).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.