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Remembering Theodore Kosloff, a forgotten figure in California's dance history

April 5, 2009 |  9:00 am

Kosloff "When I first saw Kosloff," wrote choreographer Agnes de Mille of her first ballet teacher in her 1952 memoir “Dance to the Piper,” “he was naked in feathers, leaning on a feathered spear. He had painted himself horned eyebrows in the Russian Ballet style, and his gestures were real classic pantomime, involving clenched fists and the whites of the eyeballs, a positive style which gave the camera something substantial to focus on. Here was passion and here certainly was sincerity in amounts. Every expression was performed with a force that could have carried him across the room and over the wall. I was awe-struck."

Theodore Kosloff impressed not only Agnes; her uncle, movie director Cecil B. De Mille, was awe-struck as well. In his De Mille biography, Charles Higham states: “Kosloff had all the qualities De Mille admired in a man. He was fearless and superbly built -- limbs like those of a Michelangelo carving, and a flawless pair of shoulders. His noble profile and aristocratic bearing were almost overpowering.”

In 1917, De Mille cast the former Ballets Russes dancer as the Aztec leader Guatemoc in “The Woman God Forgot.” A string of Paramount silent pictures and a lifelong friendship evolved between the two men. 

Kosloff brought to Los Angeles unimpeachable Russian ballet credentials. When he is remembered, however, it is primarily by film buffs and not by dance fans. He strove to establish classical ballet here over four decades. But while Balanchine and his patron Lincoln Kirstein were building ballet institutions in New York, Kosloff’s efforts in L.A. left no permanent mark. 

Read about Kosloff’s double artistic career in Los Angeles in today's Arts & Books section.

-- Debra Levine

Photo: Theodore Kosloff, circa June 1927. Credit: Fred R. Archer

Comments () | Archives (4)

While they were teenaged students in the Imperial Ballet School, Koslov and Karsavina had a 'love affair' despite the school's strictly enforced segregation of boys and girls. A crafty fellow student served as a courier for the notes, Easter eggs, and carnations they exchanged.

This courier was Lydia Lopokova, or 'John Maynard Keynes' wife' as she's known here in England.


My first ballet teacher, Marguerite Ellicott, was a student of both Kosloff and Baldina. Baldina was the "waltz girl" in Fokine's original cast of "Les Sylphides."

Ellicott often gave exercises directly inherited from the Maryinski via Kosloff and Baldina. When I saw the movie "Children of Theatre Street" - I recognized one of those exercises performed by a ballet class.

i have in my possession 6 of mr. kosloff's paintings. he had given them to his mistrees mis eva fox back soumewhere around 1947. They are all floral pictures. he used to oil paintings in his spare time, but was never famous for any of them.i have all of his information, but would like to know if somebody might want these paintings. perhaps, family.please contact me. thank you

Dears Ms.Mary Gonzales, My wife and I just happened on this web page of the Los Angles Times. My wife's aunt Ann Bauchens was Cecil B.DeMille's film editor and worked with Kosloff for many years. We have two oil paintings here at home and am trying to find out who painted them. Aunt Ann received them for Christmas 1927 &1928 from Theodore Kosloff. I don't believe he painted them but you never know. We were hoping that you might still have the pictures and info that you had posted back Aug.28,2009. Wished we had seen your Post sooner. It was just by chance that we saw it today. I guess if you do have them it was meant for us otherwise I guess it wasn't. Maybe if they are gone you could let us know and we could at least get a picture of his siginature so we can compare them to see if it matches our paintings. Maybe their is some way to contact the persons you gave them to. Kosloff was a very close and personel friend to Aunt Ann. Thank you for your time and hope we might here from you. Becky and Tim Peck

P.S. Maybe the Las Angeles Times will refer us to you or have another contac for you. Thank you (Las Angeles Times)!!!!


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