Agnes de Mille, Photo by Maurice Seymour Agnes de Mille, Photo by Maurice Seymour

Pictured: Agnes de Mille as the cowgirl in her iconic western-themed work Rodeo (1942), choreographed by de Mille for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo to an original score by Aaron Copland with scenery by Oliver Smith. (Photographs by Maurice Seymour. Courtesy of Ronald Seymour/Maurice Seymour Archive.)

The grande dame of American dance, Agnes de Mille (1905-1993) was born in New York City. Her father was a playwright who went to work in Hollywood, and it was there, inspired by a performance of Anna Pavlova, that she took her first ballet lessons from Theodore Koslov. She attended UCLA, received a degree in English, then resumed her dance studies in New York, where she made her solo debut in 1928. The following year she staged the dances in a revival of The Black Crook. In the 1930s, in London, she studied with Marie Rambert, danced in the premiere of Antony Tudor's Dark Elegies (1937), and worked on concert pieces that inspired her successes of the 1940s. Among these was Rodeo, the Americana classic she choreographed for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1942, and the dances for the Broadway musical Oklahoma! in 1943. Oklahoma! was a turning point in Broadway history: the dances were fully integrated into the "book" and required training in ballet and modern dance. During the 1940s de Mille created a number of works for Ballet Theatre that revealed the light touch of her Broadway choreography and the interest in American material that inspired her to form the Agnes de Mille Heritage Dance Theatre in the 1970s. A gifted writer, she is the author of several books, including a highly-regarded biography of Martha Graham.

Learn more in Agnes de Mille, an essay by Barbara Palfy.

De Mille pioneered the "dream ballet" that became a common feature in musicals
with "Laurie Makes Up Her Mind" in her most enduringly popular work, Oklahoma.
Performed by Bambi Linn and James Mitchell in the 1955 film version.