Donald Saddler (1918-2014)

November 5, 2014

Donald Saddler, the dancer and choreographer whose career encompassed opera, television, movies, ballet and Broadway (where he won two Tony Awards), passed away in November at the age of 96. Saddler was born in Van Nuys, CA, on Jan. 24, 1918, the youngest of 12 children. He began dancing to regain strength after having scarlet fever, and danced in the chorus of MGM musicals as a teenager. His first dance teacher, Nico Charisse, encouraged him to pursue ballet (Saddler also met Tula Ellice Finklea in his first class, who would go on to marry their teacher and become the dancer and actress Cyd Charisse).

He was an original member of Ballet Theatre (which would become American Ballet Theatre), becoming a soloist for them, and formed lifelong friendships with Maria Karnilova, Jerome Robbins and others. During World War II, he served in the Army in Alaska. He made his Broadway debut in High Button Shoes in 1947, and his debut as a Broadway choreographer came in 1953 with Wonderful Town, which won him his first Tony for Best Musical. Other Broadway credits include Milk and Honey in 1961, a Tony-winning 1971 revival of No, No, Nanette and a 1983 revival of On Your Toes.

Saddler also choreographed operas, including La Périchole for the Metropolitan Opera in New York and Aida in Dallas; created ballets for the Harkness Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet and the Cincinnati Ballet; and choreographed films, including April in Paris and By the Light of the Silvery Moon. He also worked in theater both on and off Broadway.

Saddler’s career lasted over 60 years, and he continued to dance into his 80s and 90s, when he and Marge Champion would dance together every week in a studio in New York City.



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