de Mille, Agnes (1905–1993) By Gennaro, Liza
Agnes de Mille performed as a self-producing female dance soloist; she choreographed for Ballets Russes and Ballet Theatre (now the AmericanBallet Theatre) and transformed the function of dance in the American musical. Her Americana ballet Rodeo (1942) presents an iconic individualistic American character in her misfit cowgirl; Three Virgins and a Devil (1941) exposes the temptations of lust, greed, and piety rendered in comic dance/pantomime; and Fall River Legend (1948) examines the psychological torment of accused murderess Lizzie Borden. These ballets are important contributions to the canon of American ballet; however, it is in de Mille’s musical theater dances that her modernist methodologies served to transform a genre. Developing her choreographic art in the early days of American modern dance, de Mille was a practitioner of the methods and tenets of the burgeoning form. Making the American musical a medium for modern dance expression, she ushered in an exceptional period of choreography during the prolific era of the ‘‘Golden Age’’ (1943–1964). De Mille’s influence is still apparent in twenty-first-century Broadway.