Gloria Fokine (1925–2012)

October 2, 2012

“I’m sure that is so-and-so, there in the shadows,” as Gloria Fokine might point out in a rare photo in the Dance Magazine archives. And of course it was. She had a photographic memory for dancers and a kinetic memory for choreography. She knew how Michel Fokine’s ballets should look, and she could demonstrate how they shouldn’t look. Dancer, ballet teacher par excellence and lively member of the New York dance community, she died in Manhattan on September 3 after a long illness. Days before her death—Alzheimer’s not withstanding—Fokine was verbally sketching some of the original steps of the Bluebird pas de deux for friend Norberto Sanchez.

Her sense of humor and storytelling were much loved. In an adult beginners’ class at her school, she gave corrections seriously but with a gentle chuckle, and referred with affectionate glee to her fictitious “Brooklyn Heights Ballet Company.” A student who was away on business was said to be “on tour.”  And she could imitate her erstwhile classmate in Havana University Law School—Fidel Castro—as he leaned forward to harangue his cronies with his hands clasped behind his back, a gesture she said he picked up from the Divinity School.

Gloria Fokine was born Gloria González Negreira in Havana, where she started ballet because of her mother’s acquaintance with Alicia Alonso’s mother in the early days of Pro Arte Musical, the organization that was to give birth to Alonso’s companies. In spite of politics, Fokine and Alonso were to remain friendly whenever their paths crossed. Fokine became well acquainted with Col. de Basil’s Ballet Russe when they were stranded in Cuba for a length of time, and she could ever afterwards recall the details of their performances. (See Dance Magazine editor in chief Wendy Perron’s historical interview with her in Ballet Review.)

The young Gloria was a petite dancer, whom keen ballet observer Norberto Sanchez saw at that time and remembers as “really outstanding, high-class and very clean, with a big jump.” The production in which he saw her dance was The Seasons by Leon Fokine, Michel Fokine’s nephew, who was then on staff at the school. In 1949 he and Gloria married, and they subsequently founded their own studio in Washington DC.

Later when she was based in New York, Gloria Fokine taught extensively for her sister-in-law, Irine Fokine in Ridgewood, New Jersey and for other schools, and at her own school in Brooklyn Heights from 1978–84. After that, she turned her dazzling memory to the benefit of Dance Magazine as photo editor.

Other highlights in her life involved travel. She and Leon Fokine joined the staff of Alonso’s company for its first tour of the Soviet Union, in 1960. She could tell many a story from that exciting time. She studied briefly in Paris with the former Maryinsky dancer, the magisterial teacher Olga Preobrajenska; taught for the great Graham dancer and independent choreographer Tim Wengerd’s short-lived school in Albuquerque, New Mexico; and also for the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Universal Ballet Company School in Seoul, Korea. Another highlight for Fokine was her return to Havana to take part in the 1998 celebration of 50 years of Alicia Alonso’s companies (Ballet Alicia Alonso, which became, after 1960, Ballet Nacional de Cuba). From that reunion with old friends, she returned home to New York glowing with warm, fresh reminiscences. —Marilyn Hunt

Gloria Fokine congratulating scholarship winners at Irine Fokine School of Ballet in Ridgewod, NJ, circa 1960. She is shaking hands with Wendy Perron. Photo courtesy Donna Decker.

At top: Gloria Fokine in
Les Sylphides, circa 1944.