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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