Massine, Léonide (1896–1979) By Straus, Rachel
Russian-born Léonide Massine’s career flourished in the cities of Western Europe, where he made his name as a lead dancer and choreographer for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes (1909–29). Massine’s choreographic development coincided with and helped to define the Ballets Russes’s modernist period. As Diaghilev’s protégé, Massine absorbed principles of Cubism and Futurism, consequently developing an angular, distorted movement style, heralded for its intensity and polyrhythmic complexity, along with its satiric and cinematic elements. Massine’s Parade (1917), in collaboration with Pablo Picasso (decor and costumes), Erik Satie (music), and Jean Cocteau (libretto), is recognized as a landmark of ballet modernism. Like other modernists, Massine incorporated national and folk material (commedia dell’arte to flamenco) and popular theater forms (including film) as tools for creative innovation. Following his departure from the Ballets Russes, Massine became interested in formalism and abstraction, which he expressed in a series of symphonic ballets. The most recognized dance artist of the 1920s and 1930s, Massine’s magnificent presence as a performer, even an aging one, can be seen in the film The Red Shoes (1947).