The Pioneer Choreographers        

    The 1930's and 1940's

Robert Alton

Robert Alton may well have been the most prolific dance director on the Broadway and Hollywood scene during the 1930'3, 1940's, and 1950's with such shows to his credit as ANYTHING GOES, PAL JOEY, and ME AND JULIET.

The characteristic Alton mode of show dancing used tap dance as a stylistic base onto which elements of ballroom, ballet, folk, or ethnic dance could be grafted. So entrenched did this image of show dancing become that the scholar Cecil Smith identified Alton as "the truest and best representative in our time of the historic qualities of American popular theatre dancing."

George Balanchine

George Balanchine, who began his carreer with impeccable training at the Russian Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg, requested that his program credit for ON YOUR TOES (1936) read "choreographed by..." rather than the customary "dances by..." So did George Balanchine fire the first salvo in a revolution that would change forever the nature, scope and function of American show dancing.

Balanchine opened the door for ballet on the American stage with such shows as I MARRIED AN ANGEL, BABES IN ARMS, THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE, SONG OF NORWAY and WHERE'S CHARLEY. He became the model for the complete choreographer who could supply a show not with routines, but with fully realized and fully-integrated dance.

Agnes De Mille's Oklahoma! (1943)

Agnes De Mille

Agnes De Mille revolutionized show dance in 1943 with her contribution to OKLAHOMA. Her choreography functioned in so substantial and valid a way as to secure for the choreographer the status of coequal to playwright, composer, and lyricist in the making of a musical show.

At her best, Agnes de Mille fashioned dance dramas for the commercial stage that developed out of plot and advanced the action of the story. De Mille assigned her dancers dramatic features previously reserved for actors and singers only - among them depth of character, motivation and emotional content. Her dancers appeared as characters in the show and not merely impersonal instruments for dance entertainment.

Fosse and Champion
Bob Fosse and Gower Champion dance a duet in
Give a Girl a Break (1953) while Kurt Kasner watches.

Gower Champion

Singer, Dancer, Actor, Choreographer, Gower Champion was born on June 22, 1921 in Geneva, Illinois. He started dancing at an early age and in 1941 entered the Coast Guard for wartime service that included USO shows. When he left active duty, he teamed up with Marjorie Belcher, they were married in 1947. Some of the films they appeared in were "Mr. Music", "Showboat", "Lovely To Look At", and "Jupiter’s Darling". On television they appeared on the "The Bell Telephone Hour", "The Marge and Gower Champion Show" and the "Admiral Broadway Review". He directed such movie musical blockbusters as "Hello Dolly" and "Guys and Dolls".

Champion was awarded the Tony Award for Best Choreography for 42nd Street and also won the Drama Desk Award in the same category. His name is synonymous with some of the greatest musicals in Broadway history. He was the director and choreographer for: Lend an Ear, Bye Bye Birdie, Carnival, Hello, Dolly!, I do! I Do!, The Happy Time, Sugar, Irene and Mack and Mabel. Gower Champion passed away in 1980.

Jerome Robbins

Jerome Robbins is world renowned for his work as a choreographer of ballets as well as his work as a director and choreographer in theater, movies and television. Although he began as a modern dancer, his start on Broadway was as a chorus dancer before joining the corps de ballet of American Ballet Theatre in 1939, where he went on to dance principal roles.

While embarking on his career in the theater, Mr. Robbins simultaneously created ballets for New York City Ballet, which he joined in 1949, and became an Associate Artistic Director with George Balanchine. Mr. Robbins has directed for television and film as well, with his co-direction and choreography of West Side Story winning him two Academy Awards. After his Broadway triumph with Fiddler On the Roof in 1964, Mr. Robbins continued creating ballets for New York City Ballet. He shared the position of Ballet-Master-in-Chief with Peter Martins until 1989.

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