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Dance on B'way took a giant leap with de Mille's Oklahoma!

Agnes de Mille's "dream ballet" from the original production of Oklahoma! (1943)

At a gala tribute to Agnes de Mille in 1983, Jerome Robbins spoke to a packed, VIP audience at the Shubert Theatre about his colleague's enormous contribution to the Broadway musical. "Agnes changed the history of dance," and Robbins. "People are always discussing who was the first to use ballet [in musicals] and the first to tell a story. I don't think that's important. What's important is the Agnes did it and made it stick, and as a result we all got a chance."

It's not that ballet was non-existent on Broadway before de Mille choreographed the dances for Oklahoma! in 1943. But much of what passed for classical dance on the musical stage prior to the Rodgers and Hammerstein landmark show was not very good and generally superfluous. Ballets were sometimes featured in revues, and on the rare occasion that they were incorporated into book shows, they seldom had anything to do with the stories. They were divertissements, fillers.
It wasn't until George Balanchine choreographed On Your Toes in 1936 that ballet received a measure of respect in musical theatre. Balanchine also started a precedent when, at his request, his credit read "Choreography by," rather than the customary "Dances by."
Balanchine returned to Broadway often during the next decade, and although he did some fine work on such shows as Babes in Arms, The Boys from Syracuse, I Married an Angel (all by Rodgers and Hart) and Cabin in the Sky, among others, there was never any question that Broadway was a temporary stop. 
But musical theatre took a giant leap forward in 1943, when Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II hired de Mille to choreograph their first joint project. De Mille, a native New Yorker, had strug-

Which musical was the first to have a TV commercial (a) Cats (b) Sweet Charity (c) Pippin

By Sheryl Flatow

Calvin Klein
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