Karen Azenberg, a past president of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, stumbled on something peculiar before the union's 2015 move to new offices: a 52-year-old sealed envelope with a handwritten note attached. It was from Agnes de Mille, the groundbreaking choreographer of Oklahoma! and Rodeo. De Mille, a founding member of SDC, had sealed the envelope with gold wax before mailing it to the union and asking, in a separate note, that it not be opened. The reason? "It is the outline for a play, and I have no means of copyrighting…The material is eminently stealable."
Josh Groban and the cast of Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. PC Chad Batka, courtesy of Matt Ross PR
I first got hooked on Broadway musicals as a preteen at Gypsy, with its tapping moppets, gyrating burlesque queens and Tulsa, the dancing heartthrob. I've been going ever since, but Dance Magazine has been at it even longer.
The 1926-27 Broadway season was just ending when DM began publication, and of its 200-plus shows, dozens were new musicals. One, a Ziegfeld revue called No Foolin', listed more than 80 performers. Such huge ensembles of dancers and singers were common, whether in revues, operettas or musical comedies.
And why not? The '20s were roaring, and Broadway was flush. But that wasn't the only difference between then and now. Dance in the theater was only tangentially related to a show's content. It was window dressing—however extravagant, it remained mere entertainment.
Agnes de Mille flying high as The Cowgirl in her "Rodeo." Photo by Semo, Courtesy DM Archives.
60 Years Ago This Month
In the April 1957 issue of Dance Magazine, we reported on that year's Dance Magazine Awards, one of which went to Agnes de Mille. The dancer-choreographer first leapt to prominence after choreographing—and starring in—her now-iconic Rodeo for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1942. Lauded for its realism, the "cowboy ballet" was such a success that Rodgers and Hammerstein invited de Mille to choreograph the original Broadway production of Oklahoma! Accepting her award, she said, "I think the function of saying to somebody: 'You don't have to take leave of the human race in order to be interested in dancing. It's a normal expression for people' is a worthy one. I am glad to have had some part in doing that."