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Mia Slavenska was one of the most celebrated ballerinas of the 20th century, Croatia’s greatest dancer, and a pioneer in American ballet. Caught in the maelstrom of 20th century political events, she was forced to leave her native Croatia at age twenty in order to continue to dance; at age twenty-one, she was celebrated in Western Europe as the likely successor to prima Ballerina Anna Pavlova; and, at age twenty-three, she was emigrating to the United States with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo to escape a looming world war.

Photograph by Maurice Seymour

Photo courtesy Maurice Seymour

When Mia arrived in the late 1930s, she found an America where outside of major cities ballet was known as “fancy dancing” and “toe dancing” and was most often performed as variety acts in music reviews and movie halls. She was one of a small band of famous European émigré ballerinas who changed the face of American culture by introducing audiences across the country to ballet as an art form. Without Mia and her émigré colleagues, choreographer George Balanchine’s American revolution in ballet would never have made it past the borders of New York City. 

Photograph by Maurice Seymour

Mia was a modernist, one of the few ballerinas to form her own company. She moved freely between modern and ballet idioms. In 1952, she convinced Tennessee Williams to allow her ballet company to produce a ballet version of A Streetcar Named Desire. It was the first time a modern play was turned into a ballet. With her portrayal of Blanche Dubois, Mia Slavenska became a truly American artist.

Photograph by Marcus Blechman

But her daughter, Maria, remembers her mother’s halcyon days of dancing only vaguely. Slavenska retired from the stage in the early 1960s when Maria was still a young girl. Mostly, Maria remembers her mother’s preoccupation with her lost fame. At the end of her life, Slavenska was haunted by the fear of obscurity and spent over twenty years of her life writing and rewriting her memoirs. When Slavenska died in 2002, her memoirs remained unpublished and she believed that she had been completely forgotten, not only in the United States but also in her native land of Croatia. Before Slavenska died, Maria promised that she would tell her mother’s story. This film is the keeping of that promise. As Maria retraces her mother’s life journey, she unearths the story of a maverick ballerina and a lost time in American dance. And, Maria makes a most surprising discovery: Mia Slavenska hasn’t been forgotten after all.

Photograph by Marcus Blechman

“Mia, a dancer’s journey” was co-produced for public broadcasting by Slavenska Dance Preservation, Inc., and PBS SoCaL. Writer, Producer, Director: Maria Ramas, Producer, Director, Editor: Kate Johnson, Producer: Brenda Brkusic, Producer: Ted Sprague, with Mia Slavenska’s voice by Emmy® Award-winning actress Blythe Danner. For PBS SoCaL: President and CEO: Mel Rogers. COO: Andy Russell. Station Manager: Ed Miskevich. Executive Producer of Program Development and National Productions: Brenda Brkusic. Program Development Coordinator: Michelle Merker.


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  • Brenda Brkusic, Executive Producer of Program Development and National Productions for PBS SoCaL 

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