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(E) Mia Slavenska, Croatian-American Ballerina Dies
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  10/9/2002 | In Memoriam | Unrated
(E) Mia Slavenska, Croatian-American Ballerina Dies

Mia Slavenska, 86, Celebrated Ballerina, Is Dead

 


By JACK ANDERSON

Mia Slavenska, a ballerina celebrated both for her authoritative techniqueand for her red-haired beauty, died on Saturday at a retirement center inLos Angeles where she had lived in recent years. She was 86.

A glamorous dancer with a vivid stage presence, Ms. Slavenska was especiallyknown to American audiences as a ballerina with the Ballet Russe de MonteCarlo. She appeared with it at its New York debut in 1938 and danced coastto coast with it at various times in the 1940's and 50's. But she tookoccasional leaves from the Ballet Russe to head small touring groups of herown.

Her repertory ranged from "Giselle," "Coppélia" and "Swan Lake" to20th-century ballets by Michel Fokine and Léonide Massine. A great virtuoso,she was praised for her energy, stamina and balance. But she always combinedphysical control with theatrical flair. Writing in The New York Times on May30, 1943, the dance critic John Martin praised Ms. Slavenska's "command oftechnique and taste" and remarked on her "personal beauty, which is nothingshort of spectacular."

One of her most surprising roles was that of Blanche DuBois in "A StreetcarNamed Desire," the adaptation of Tennessee Williams's play that the moderndancer Valerie Bettis choreographed in 1952 for the Slavenska-FranklinBallet, a touring group established by Ms. Slavenska and Frederic Franklin,a colleague from the Ballet Russe. Audiences had long known that Ms.Slavenska was classically versatile. Here she proved authoritative in acontemporary idiom. Reviewing "Streetcar" in The Times on Dec. 9, 1952, Mr.Martin found fault with some of Bettis's choreography. Nevertheless, he saidthat "Miss Slavenska and Mr. Franklin play its chief roles with tremendous force."

Born Mia Corakin in Brod-na Savi (renamed Slavonski Brod in 1934 by thegovernment of Yugoslavia) in Croatia, the ballerina, who adopted Slavenskaas a stage name, studied ballet with prominent teachers in Zagreb and Paris.In Vienna her teachers included Léopold Dubois who, she later recalled,taught her the meaning of classicism, and Gertrud Kraus, a pioneer ofCentral European modern dance. In New York she was greatly influenced byballet classes with Vincenzo Celli.

Ms. Slavenska gave a complete evening of her own choreography in Zagreb in1928 at the age of 12. She was prima ballerina at the Zagreb NationalTheater from 1934 to 1936, and received international attention when sheperformed at the dance festival held in conjunction with the Berlin Olympicsof 1936. In 1937, she was one of the stars of "La Mort du Cygne," a film byJean Benoît-Lévy, released in America as "Ballerina."

After joining the Ballet Russe in Europe in 1938, Ms. Slavenska traveledwith it to America, becoming a citizen in 1947. The previous year, she hadmarried Kurt Neumann, a political scientist. He died in 1983.

Ms. Slavenska organized Ballet Variante, a touring group in 1947 and, withMr. Franklin, the Slavenska-Franklin Ballet, which toured in the early1950's. She also appeared with companies like American Ballet Theater, theMetropolitan Opera Ballet, the Chicago Opera Ballet and London FestivalBallet, and helped direct and advise several regional ballet troupes, amongthem the Forth Worth Ballet and the Louisville Ballet.

She opened a New York studio in 1960 and, after moving to Los Angeles in1969, taught ballet at the University of California at Los Angeles and theCalifornia Institute of the Arts.

Ms. Slavenska is survived by a daughter, Maria Ramas, of Culver City, Calif.

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