On March 24, 1897, the patron mother of American ballet was born. Lucia Chase is responsible for elevating American ballet to the world stage, and her abilities as a visionary within the art form are what will keep her alive as a household name for years to come.
A Late Start
Lucia Chase was born to a high society family in Waterbury, Connecticut and was incredibly popular throughout high school. By participating in school theatre productions, Lucia earned the following quote in her high school yearbook:
“We feel that if she follows the stage as a profession, she will be unequaled.”
Lucia, unlike many of her female peers, decided to attend Bryn Mawr College following high school, at the age of 16. Lucia was invited to an astounding six senior proms at Yale University and remained a popular socialite in New England.
At 18, Lucia dropped out of college and moved to New York City to pursue acting. Her activities were often documented in the social section of the newspaper. It was around this point in her life when Lucia met Tom Ewing. After one week, the two were engaged. A short three months later and the two were married December 28, 1926.
Lucia Chase and Tow Ewing had a happy and loving marriage, Lucia giving birth to their first son, Thomas, in 1929 and their second, Alex, in 1931. Unfortunately, their relationship came to a tragic end when Tom died of pneumonia just two years after Alex’s birth.
The Mordkin Ballet
After the death of her husband, Lucia felt a major loss in her life. She decided to begin dancing to keep herself busy. Lucia began studying under Mikhail Mordkin and became personally close with the Mordkins not long after beginning at the school.
Lucia was a major patron of the school and was one of Mordkin’s proteges. Although she had begun ballet too late to develop fundamental technique, Lucia Chase was known to have an infectious stage presence and clear passion for the art.
Richard Pleasant was Mordkin’s substitute when the company toured. It was Pleasant who developed the idea of an American Ballet Theatre. He pitched it to Lucia in 1940, and she donated twenty-five thousand dollars, but the expenses rose drastically after putting plans in motion and kept the theatre on tight financial reins from the beginning.
Mordkin was so insulted and betrayed by the new theatre that it is said that the Mordkins’ last encounter with Lucia Chase ended with her getting spit on the face.
Lucia continued her patronage through a handful of directors. She shut down allegations that she was paying to dance and repeatedly claimed to “only want to be known as a dancer”.
However, her financial obligation to Ballet Theatre became extremely burdensome and she insisted that they find another source of income. This demand led to the resignation of the Board Chair, and Lucia’s subsequent rise to co-director with Oliver Smith in 1945. It was not until 1957 that they adopted the name “American Ballet Theatre”.
Chase and Smith continued to co-direct for another thirty-five years until they were succeeded by Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1980.
“Without her, the development of dance in America would be unimaginably poorer.” Jerome Robbins
Lucia Chase's Legacy
Over her time spent at American Ballet Theatre, Lucia Chase was responsible for the contracts of dancers, choreographers, and the repertory. She brought an array of classical and contemporary pieces, dancers, and choreographers onto the stage to perfectly capture the essence of American diversity.
Among others, Lucia Chase is known for her role in putting Pillar of Fire, The Great American Goof, and Billy the Kid into the public eye as well as re-staging many classic favorites. She was a patron for Jerome Robbins, Bronislava Nijinska, George Balanchine, and Agnes de Mille, among others.
In April 2006, Congress passed an act that made American Ballet Theatre America’s National Ballet Company.
Featured Photo of Lucia Chase from this Lucia Chase Tribute.
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