Dancer and choreographer Michael Kidd passed on Sunday from cancer. He was 92 years old.
Michael Kidd was born Milton Greenwald in Brooklyn, New York. He attended New Utrecht High School and later majored in Chemical Enginering at City College of New York. After attending a dance performance, however, he developed an interest in dance. He studied under dancer and choreographer Blanche Evan. He also received a scholarship to the School of American Ballet.
Kidd made his debut on Broadway playing The Gangster in Filling Station in 1939. He later toured with Lincoln Kirstein’s Ballet Caravan, including a stint on Broadway in 1939. In 1941 he was assistant director and a soloist for Eugene Loring’s Dance Players. From 1942 to 1947 he was a soloist in the Ballet Theatre. Kidd continued to appear on Broadway, as the lead in Billy the Kid in 1942, in Interplay in 1946, and in the Ballet Theatre's Fancy Free in 1947. He choreographed his first musical in 1947, Finian's Rainbow. For the rest of his career, Kidd worked as a choreographer. Over the next 33 years Kidd would choreograph such musicals as Guys and Dolls, Li'l Abner, Destry Rides Again, Ben Franklin in Paris, and a revival of The Music Man. Starting with Li'l Abner in 1956, Kidd also took up directing. Among the plays Kidd directed were Destry Rides Again, Ben Franklin in Paris, Cyrano, and the musical version of The Goodbye Girl.
Kidd also had a career in film. He was the uncredited choreographer on the film Another Dawn in 1937. He was credited as part of the Music Department (dances and musical number staging, or some variation thereof) on such films as The Band Wagon (his first big break in Hollywood), Knock on Wood, Guys and Dolls, Li'l Abner, Star, and Movie Moive. He was credited as choreographer on the movies Where's Charley, Merry Andrew, and Hello Dolly. Perhaps his most notable work in film was on the movie Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The movie is notable for featuring ballet that does not appear balletic at all, largely because Kidd insisted the dancers use natural movements. Although he did infrequently, Kidd also acted in film, perhaps his most notable role being in the movie It's Always Fair Weather. Playing Angie Valentine, Kidd was one of the few dancers who could actually keep up with Gene Kelly. He was also in the casts of the films Smile and Movie Movie.
Arguably, Michael Kidd was one of the greatest choreographers of the 20th century. In fact, I daresay that his work on Seven Brides for Seven Brothers remains unmatched to this day. He won the Tony Award for Best Choreography no less than five times. The Academy Awards lacking an award for choreography, he was awarded an Honourary Academy Award "...in recognition of his services to the art of the dance in the art of the screen." The awards were well deserved. Short of Gene Kelly when it came to the movies, there was perhaps no better choreographer to ever work on Broadway or on film. Even with movie musicals having made a comeback of late, I doubt we will see anything quite so impressive as what Kidd achieved on the big screen.