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Dance Heritage Coalition

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De Mille (Agnes). Papers, 1918-

- Biographical History

Biographical History

Agnes George de Mille, dancer, choreographer, writer and spokesperson for the arts, was born September 18, 1905 in New York. She was the daughter of playwright William Churchill de Mille (1879?-1955) and Anna George de Mille (1878-1947), who was in turn the daughter of writer and single-tax advocate, Henry George (1839-1897). Agnes' uncle was the film producer/director, Cecil B. de Mille (1881-1959). She had a younger sister, Margaret (1908-1978).

In 1914, the de Milles moved to Hollywood where William was joining forces with Cecil in the motion picture industry. Agnes attended the Hollywood School for Girls, graduating in 1922, and went on to graduate from University of California in 1926 with a degree in English. William and Anna separated that year, being divorced in 1927, and Agnes spent that summer after graduating traveling in western Europe with her mother and sister. William married Clara Beranger, a colleague in the movie industry, in 1928 and lived with her in California for the remainder of his life.

Agnes' formal dance training did not begin until early adolescence in California with Theodore Kosloff. She did some performing in college shows although she did not train continuously during her college years. Soon after graduating, she began to give solo recitals and later with Warren Leonard in her own works. Her mother helped her produce these and accompanied her to concerts in various cities in the United States and in Europe. During this period, she settled once again in New York, at first living with her mother and sister, and then on her own.

Agnes moved to England in 1932 where she continued her dance training in ballet with Marie Rambert. She performed in her own work and those of her peers such as Antony Tudor under the auspices of Rambert.

Upon her permanent return to New York ca. 1939, she met Walter Prude (1909-) through Martha Graham who was under Prude's management. Agnes and Walter were married on June 14, 1943, in Hobbs, New Mexico during the time when Prude was in military service. The two were separated-except for infrequent visits-due to the war until 1945. Their son, Jonathan de Mille Prude, was born in 1946.

It was in this time in the early 1940's that de Mille's work as a choreographer began to be recognized in the United States. Her ballet "Rodeo" in 1942, created for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, brought her immediate acclaim and popularity as did her choreography for the Broadway show "Oklahoma!" the following year. She worked steadily for the next two decades both on Broadway and in the ballet, creating over a dozen works in each field. She had a long-enduring relationship with Ballet Theatre (American Ballet Theatre) and The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, for whom she created many of her ballets.

In 1953 she formed the Agnes de Mille Dance Theatre (Heritage Dance Theatre), which functioned most actively in 1953-1954 and 1973-1975. She strove to represent in its repertoire indigenious American dance forms by native choreographers and composers as well as folk forms.

On the eve of a major New York performance of her company in her lecture/performance of "Conversations About the Dance," she suffered a serious cerebral hemorrhage. From the day of the stroke, May 15, 1975, onward, she has remained partially paralyzed on the right side of her body although she recovered from some of the other initial losses of her faculties. On November 9, 1977, she went on stage to realize the performance of "Conversations About the Dance," and resumed an active, if limited, life in dance.

Agnes de Mille has long been a dominant figure in dance and the arts-as a creator as well as a spokesperson and writer. Before and since her appointment as a founding member of the National Council for the Arts in 1965, she took the cause of dance and the arts to millions of readers and viewers, hundreds of organizations and political conventions. She continues to do so.

In 1980, Agnes de Mille received the Kennedy Center Award - the highest nonmilitary award in the United States.


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