Léonide Massine Biography

Ballet Dancer, Choreographer (1896–1979)
Léonide Massine was a 20th century ballet dancer and choreographer, known for groundbreaking works like 'Les Presages.'


Born on August 9, 1896, in Moscow, Russia, Léonide Massine worked with Sergei Diaghilev as a principal dancer and choreographer in the Ballets Russes. He later presented his groundbreaking Les Presages for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and established a film career with his choreography and performances in such films as The Red Shoes. Massine died on March 15, 1979, in Cologne, West Germany.  


Léonide Massine was born on August 9, 1896, in Moscow, Russia. A drama and dance student at his home city’s Imperial School, he was invited by impresario Sergei Diaghilev to join the Ballets Russes. Massine became a principal dancer for the company, and in 1915 he choreographed his first ballet, Soleil de Nuit. He also had both a professional and intimate relationship with Diaghilev.

'Les Presages' and Other Works

Massine continued to dance while choreographing ballets that highlighted creative visions from various disciplines. He worked with artists Pablo Picasso, Jean CocteauHenri Matisse, Igor Stravinsky and a host of others on such pieces as Parade, Pulcinella and Rite of Spring.

Massine danced and choreographed for two versions of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo from 1932 until 1942, becoming an iconic, revered figure of the theatrical arts. During this time he choreographed 1933’s Les Presages, his first work that utilized symphonic music—Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5—in a historically distinctive way that became the subject of controversy. Massine followed with more symphonic-inspired pieces, his innovative approach eventually adopted by other choreographers.  

Film Career

In addition to working as a guest artist around the globe, Massine established a big-screen career. He appeared in The Red Shoes (1948) and The Tales of Hoffman (1951), and also performed choreography for Neapolitan Carousel (1954), starring Sophia Loren, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1957).

Death and Legacy

Massine was married four times, including to fellow dancer Eugenia Delarova, and had several children. He died on March 15, 1979, in Cologne, West Germany, at the age of 83.

Autobiographical works include 1968’s My Life in Ballet and 1976’s Massine on Choreography. Biographies of the iconic figure were also written by Vicente Garcia-Marquez (Massine, 1995) and Leslie Norton (Leonide Massine and the 20th Century Ballet, 2004). His dances have gone on to be restaged after his death, receiving international attention from new audiences.


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