The first choreographer of the Ballets Russes, Michel Fokine (1880-1942) liberated dance from the constraints of convention and breathed fresh life into it, revealing a new sensibility. With him was born the ballet that would be called “neoclassical,” and which broke with academic routine.
Fokine took his first steps as a dancer at the age of barely 10 at the Imperial School in Saint Petersburg. Joining the corps de ballet of the Mariinsky Theatre, he became a soloist (1898) and then principal dancer (1904), also lecturing at the Imperial School beginning in 1902. His encounter with Isadora Duncan, who came to Saint Petersburg in 1905, stimulated his approach as a reformer.
In 1909 he was hired by Diaghilev as principal dancer and choreographer for the Ballets Russes. From 1909 to 1913 his contributions to the company led to tremendous success. Among the best-known of Fokine’s works for the Ballets Russes should be mentioned The Firebird and Scheherazade, which premiered in 1910; and Petrushka (1912) and Le Spectre de la rose (1911). In 1914, because of disagreements with Diaghilev, Fokine returned to Russia. He later settled in the United States, where he remained active as both dancer and choreographer.