PBS SoCal Presents the Story of an Immigrant Ballerina Who Inspired Generations


“Mia, a dancer’s journey” Premieres November 20, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.

on PBS SoCaL

COSTA MESA, Calif. (August 27, 2014) – PBS SoCaL, PBS for Greater Los Angeles, presents “Mia, a dancer’s journey,” the story of one of the most celebrated ballerinas of the 20th century, Mia Slavenska. The documentary premieres November 20, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. as a part of PBS SoCaL’s commitment to highlight the arts and the remarkable stories of legendary Southern California influencers.

“Mia, a dancer’s journey” is a narrative of a daughter telling the story of her mother – one of the world’s greatest dancers. Voiced by the Emmy® award-winning actress Blythe Danner, the documentary features interviews from historians as well as from colleagues Slavenska influenced as a dancer and friend. The film brings to life Slavenska’s odyssey as an expatriated artist pioneering her craft in America with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.  Later, settling in Los Angeles in the early 1940s, she was one of the few ballerinas to strike out on her own, launching Ballet Variante and, later, the Slavenska Franklin Ballet. Her performances spanned dance styles, decades and countries from her native Croatia to the U.S.

“Mia Slavenska was quite an extraordinary artist who lived a dramatic and inspiring life,” said Blythe Danner. “It was an honor to represent her voice in this moving documentary.”

Driven by her own restless creativity, Slavenska rose to fame in her native Croatia, becoming the first Croat prima ballerina. Caught in the maelstrom of 20th century political events, she was forced to leave her country in order to continue to dance. Within a year she was celebrated in Western Europe as the likely successor to Anna Pavlova. However, with World War II looming, she escaped to the U.S. as one of the stars of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

When Slavenska arrived to America in the late 1930s, she found a country where, outside of major cities, ballet was little known. Barnstorming across the country for nearly two decades, performing in small-town theaters and gymnasiums, she was one of a small band of famous European émigré ballerinas who changed the face of American dance by introducing audiences across the country to ballet as an art form.

A modernist, Slavenska again broke new ground when she convinced Tennessee Williams to allow her to produce a ballet version of A Streetcar Named Desire. When it premiered on Broadway, it was the first time a contemporary American play and movie was turned into a ballet. Slavenska portrayed Blanche Dubois to critical acclaim, but was most proud of Tennessee Williams telling her that she was his favorite Blanche.

Slavenska retired from the stage in 1961 and spent the rest of her life teaching, first in New York City and from the late 1960s on, in Los Angeles. During  her  30-year  teaching  career,  she  was  an  important  influence  on  many  Southern California dancers,  as a founding faculty member of the dance department at the California Institute for the Arts and serving on the faculty of the UCLA Dance Department.

In spite of her artistic success in America and abroad, the feeling of living in exile haunted Slavenska throughout her life.  War and communist rule prevented Slavenska from ever returning home. At the end of her life, she feared that she had been forgotten, not only in the U.S. but also in her native Croatia.  Before she died, Slavenska’s daughter, Maria, promised to tell her mother’s story.  As Maria retraces Slavenska’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.

“PBS SoCaL is thrilled to share the story of Mia’s incredible journey as an émigré artist who overcame adversity and contributed significantly to the American cultural landscape,” said PBS SoCaL Executive Producer of Program Development and National Productions, Brenda Brkusic. “This film will serve to educate, entertain and enlighten PBS viewers across the country and we hope to inspire others to be a part of the effort to reveal this important story to the nation.”

“Mia, a dancer’s journey” was co-produced for public television by Slavenska Dance Preservation, Inc., and PBS SoCaL. The film is directed by Maria Ramas and Kate Johnson and produced by Maria Ramas, Kate Johnson, Brenda Brkusic and Ted Sprague. Funding for the program was made possible in part by The National Endowment for the Arts. Art works, Women in Film, Dance Films Association, The Herman Lissner Foundation, The Tcherepnin Foundation, The PBS SoCaL Program Excellence Fund for the Arts and Mladen and Nada Buntich. For more information, please visit pbssocal.org/mia.

About PBS SoCaL

PBS SoCaL is PBS for Greater Los Angeles serving as Southern California’s largest classroom, its largest stage for the arts, and most trusted information source. With its three unique broadcast channels, PBS SoCaL HD (KOCE), PBS SoCaL Plus and PBS SoCaL World, PBS SoCaL provides award-winning programs like Frontline, NewsHour, NOVA, Nature and Masterpiece, as well as local productions including Studio SoCaL and LAaRT.  As the flagship PBS station in Southern California, PBS SoCaL National Productions works with filmmakers to develop programs and series to distribute nationally each year. Through community outreach initiatives including PBS SoCaL Education, PBS SoCaL provides local schools access to new media materials that engage students in 21st century learning.  Explore the future of PBS in Southern California at pbssocal.org.

# # #


Finn Partners

Jess Schmidt

(310) 552-4177