A female ballet dancer is called a ballerina. Who doesn’t know that though? Here’s something you might not know, ballerinas are much more than just dancers. They are choreographers of movies, operas, and Broadway musicals. They are humanitarians, filmmakers, wives, and mothers. In almost any facet women are known to take on many roles at once, in the world of ballet this is no different.
This revelation of dynamic women in the workforce inspired our next articles listing some of the most famous multi-taskers in the world of ballet. Here we go with…
5 Famous Females in Ballet
1 – Agnes de Mille
In 1905 Agnes de Mille was born in New York City. William Churchill de Mille, her father, was a famous playwright, and her mother Anna George, was the daughter of Henry George, a notable financial expert. Agnes’s family moved to California when she was very young to meet up with her uncle, Cecil B. de Mille. Her father hoped to find work in the movies just like his famous brother.
This move enabled Agnes to attend the private institution Hollywood School for Girls. From there she would go to the University of California at Los Angeles where she graduated with honors. It was at this time that Agnes’s parents split up and divorced. She decided to join her mother back in New York with her sister. This made it possible for Agnes to search for work in the city as a dancer. It was not easy to come by so she choreographed her own ballet performances. The critics loved her, yet the crowds didn’t come, and Agnes lost a great deal of money in the venture.
At this time, she and her mother moved to London, and again, with the help of Warren Leonard, Agnes gave performances that once again garnered her critical acclaim but didn’t help her pocketbook. With the influence of friends, Agnes stayed in London to further her studying at Rambert’s Ballet Club and continue her recitals.
Miss de Mille returned to the United States in 1938 to begin her performing career touring with Joseph Anthony and Sybil Shearer. In 1940 she created her inaugural ballet Black Ritual for the Ballet Theater, which was formed that same year. This ballet featured African-American dancers, which was the first of its kind performed by a reputable ballet company. She also created Three Virgins and a Devil for the Ballet Theater, now called American Ballet, and this was a smashing success.
Miss de Mille was commissioned to create a ballet for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1942, and the result was Rodeo, which gave her world fame. In 1943 Miss de Mille danced the lead role of this piece at the Metropolitan Opera House. After the performance, she was called for a standing ovation twenty-two times. It was this ballet performance that prompted Rodgers and Hammerstein to solicit her choreography for their musical Oklahoma!.
In the summer of that same year, Miss de Mille married Walter Foy Prude who would then be sent overseas with the army not long after.
From there Miss de Mille choreographed dances for musicals One Touch of Venus, Bloomer Girl, and Carousel and also created the ballet Tally-Ho. All of this before 1945, when she went to London for work but did so to see her husband who was serving as an officer in Germany.
Once WWII was over, de Mille’s husband was able to join his wife in the United States and they had a son.
She continued to live a productive life performing and choreographing in the ballet world until 1975 when she had a cerebral hemorrhage just as she was about to give her famous lecture Conversations About the Dance.
Miss de Mille survived this medical setback but would not work on dance anymore unless it was a revival of her original work. She also limited her public appearances. After the stroke, she still managed to write five books, became an expert on the history of clothes, and was president of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers. At this time, she was the only woman to lead a labor union in the United States.
It was also after her stroke that Miss de Mille was given New York City’s Handel Medallion, awarded the Kennedy Center Honor from President Carter, and awarded seventeen honorary degrees from higher education facilities from all over the country. Of course, she was also awarded two Tony Awards from Brigadoon and Kwamina and an Emmy for Agnes, The Indomitable de Mille.
Agnes de Mille passed away at the age of eighty-eight in 1993 still active in the cultural influence and direction of the United States.
2 – Marguerite Porter
Not much could be found on this prima ballerina who is still alive today and living in London. In 1948 Porter was born in Doncaster, England. After studying ballet in Yorkshire, Marguerite Porter moved on to study at the Royal Ballet School in London. She trained there with Dame Ninette De Valois, who hailed from Ireland.
Porter completed her training in two short years and immediately joined The Royal Ballet. Over twenty years of dancing as Principal Ballerina, a position she was bestowed in 1978, Marguerite Porter performed many roles such as Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Ophelia in Hamlet, and lead dances in Manon, Giselle, Daphnis and Chloe and many more.
Once leaving The Royal Ballet Porter would still perform as a guest.
Marguerite Porter also appeared on Broadway, debuting in Swan Lake as the Queen in Matthew Bourne’s production. She also danced her way across our television screens, both silver and television in The Magic of the Dance alongside Margot Fonteyn and Comrade Lady.
Since her days of ballet dancing, Porter has built a name for herself in choreography. Her most notable productions are The Garden of Eros for the London City Ballet and Dancing at Lughnasa.
Today Porter is married to husband Nicky Henson and they have a son. She teaches at the Royal Ballet School and has also instructed at the Ballet Rambert and the Hong Kong Ballet. She serves as Director of the Yorkshire Ballet Seminars and is the governor of the Royal Ballet Company, where she first started out. In 2015 Marguerite Porter was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the New Year’s Honours for her contribution to the world of ballet.
3 – Veronica Tennant
This Canadian producer, director, and filmmaker was born in London in 1946. At the age of nine, her family moved to Canada and immediately started her training in the ballet, practicing dance since the age of four. Tennant trained with Betty Oliphant and then moved on to the National Ballet School. Before graduating Tennant would suffer her first back injury. Still, despite her physical ailment, in 1964 Tennant became the youngest Principal Dancer the National Ballet Company had ever had. John Cranko and Celia Franca debuted Tennant in Juliet in the title role.
From there Veronica Tennant danced in every major ballet role in a classical sense where her performances earned her high praise. She also performed in many contemporary ballets that were choreographed with her in mind.
Partnered with famous male dancers of her time like Erik Bruhn and Rudolf Nureyev, Miss Tennant performed ballet all over the world.
In February of 1989, Veronica Tennant gave farewell performances as Juliet in the role for which she is most noted. She was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in the mid-seventies and was eventually given the rank of Companion of the Order of Canada in 2004. Victoria Tennant is the first dancer to be bestowed such an honor. She was also awarded the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement.
She has also been awarded honorary doctorates from many universities and often speaks at their commencements. Other awards include the Toronto Arts Award and the Arts and Letters Award from The Canadian Club of New York City.
4 – Amanda Schull
Our youngest ballerina on the list is Amanda Shull who was born in 1978 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Many people know her from television shows One Tree Hill and Pretty Little Liars, but she also is a celebrated ballet dancer. She studied dance at Indiana University on a full scholarship. The summer of her sophomore year she trained at the San Francisco Ballet School Summer Intensive. Schull was given a scholarship to study in San Francisco another year. In 1999 she accepted an apprenticeship in the San Francisco Ballet, which was offered to her by the artistic director. Once she completed her role in Center Stage, a film about young ballet dancers in New York, Schull became a full-time member of San Francisco Ballet’s corps de ballet.
Amanda Schull retired from the San Francisco Ballet in 2006 and from there started her television and movie career. She performed a guest roll on Lie to Me and had a role in the Lifetime Movie Sorority Wars. Schull was introduced to a larger audience on The CW’s One Tree Hill. She has appeared on the Ghost Whisperer and had a recurring role on ABC’s Pretty Little Liars. Still, having a mother who is President of Ballet Hawaii, Amanda Schull got her start with the art of ballet dancing.
5 – Dame Alicia Markova
Originally dubbed Lilian Alicia Marks this next famous ballerina on our list. Born in 1910 in London this particular dancer was renowned for her unearthly weightlessness and superb, delicate nature she brought to the ballets she performed. For some time, she trained with Serafima Astafieva and Enrico Cecchetti and debuted with Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in France at the age of fourteen. From that point out Markova was dancing in lead roles in many productions.
Markova left Ballets Russes to dance with the Vic-Wells Ballet, now known as the Royal Ballet. She was their first prima ballerina and the first English born dancer to perform Giselle and Swan Lake in its full version.
She danced as a ballerina with Ballet Rambert, Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo, and Ballet Theater, now known as the American Ballet. Markova also performed as a guest ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera.
In 1935 she, along with Anton Dolin, Markova founded the Markova-Dolin Ballet and later they got together once again to create the Festival Ballet in 1950, which is now known at the English National Ballet.
After retiring in 1963, Markova became the director of the Metropolitan Ballet in New York City and remained in the position for six years. In 1969 she was appointed Dame of the British Empire.
PS: March was Women’s History Month! Take a look at how Cennarium honored women’s accomplishments in the performing arts with 3 select streamed shows!