Mia Slavenska, one of the leading ballerinas of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, co-founder of the Slavenska-Franklin Ballet and a respected former teacher at UCLA and California Institute of the Arts, died Saturday. She was 86.
Slavenska died of natural causes in an assisted-living residence in Westwood, surrounded by family and friends, said her daughter, Maria Ramas.
Born Mia Corak Slavenska in Croatia in 1916, Slavenska began her studies at the Zagreb Opera Ballet School, where she became prima ballerina at age 17. She continued her studies in Paris, working with Egorova, Kshessinska and Preobrajenska.
She began creating dances for herself when she was 12 and went on to be one of three dancer-choreographer winners--the other two were Harald Kreutzberg and Mary Wigman--at the Berlin Dance Olympics, held concurrently with the 1936 Olympic Games. It was after that event that she dropped her family name and began appearing as Mia Slavenska.
She went on to dance in London and Paris. Her role in the 1938 prize-winning French film "La Mort du Cygne" (released in the United States as "Ballerina") brought her further fame.
Slavenska frequently danced "Carnaval" with Igor Youskevitch when both were members of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo during the late 1930s and early '40s. She joined the Ruth Page Chicago Opera ballet for a season, and also danced with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet in New York, the Ballet Theater and London Festival Ballet.
From 1944 to 1945, she directed her own touring companies. Slavenska and Frederic Franklin formed a series of touring companies, beginning in 1948.
One of her most celebrated roles was as Blanche in Valerie Bettis' "A Streetcar Named Desire," created in 1952 for the Slavenska-Franklin Ballet, which at its peak had about 18 dancers and its own small orchestra. The company was dissolved in 1954.
"She was a very beautiful ballerina, and she was fearless, on stage and in life," Franklin said from Cincinnati, where the Cincinnati Ballet is presenting a tribute to Franklin and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.
"She was exceptional in the fact that she was something more than just a ballerina. She managed her own company. She went on tour. She choreographed. She designed costumes. She was quite unique. No other ballerina at that time did all that."
Their company folded, he said, "because of finances. Very simple. There was literally no scrubbings, no fights, nothing like that. We were sent on a tour, which was really just badly managed. One moment, there wasn't any more money left. It was very sad."
Slavenska taught at her own studio and at UCLA from 1969 to 1983 and at Cal Arts from 1970 to 1983.
She married Kurt Neumann in 1946. He died in 1983. She is survived by her daughter, who lives in Culver City. A memorial service will be held early next year, Ramas said.