Melissa Hayden premieres role of Titania in Balanchine ballet
January 17, 1962
Born in Toronto, Canada, in 1923, Melissa Hayden became one of the biggest stars of American ballet. Although she began her ballet training late, at age 15, she quickly became a world-class dancer, joining the well-known American Ballet Theatre in New York City in 1945.
Three years later, Hayden joined the newly formed New York City Ballet, under the direction of George Balanchine and Lincoln Kerstein. Except for a brief return to the American Ballet Theatre in 1954, she would stay with the New York City Ballet (NYCB) until 1973. Recognized for her unusual strength and energy, qualities she was able to combine with lyricism and grace, Hayden danced many important roles with the NYCB. Among her notable performances were those in Jerome Robbins's Age of Anxiety (1950) and In the Night (1970), and in Frederick Ashton's Illuminations (1950).
Balanchine created many roles especially for Hayden. These included Miss Liberty Bell in Stars and Stripes (1958), and Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream, which she premiered on January 17, 1962. A Midsummer Night's Dream was especially significant because it was the first full-length original ballet created in North America. When Hayden reprised the role of Titania in 1966, the New York Times reviewer called her "gracious and authoritative," and noted that "Miss Hayden dances like a prima ballerina should, with that distinctive musicality." These roles, along with those she danced in the company's regular repertoire, showcased Hayden's versatility as a dancer; some roles required technical precision, while others demonstrated Hayden's romanticism or delicacy.
After retiring from the NYCB in 1973, Hayden remained within the ballet world as a teacher and director. She was the artist-in-residence at Skidmore College for three years, then director of the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle. She began her own ballet school in New York City in 1977 and then joined the faculty of the North Carolina School of the Arts (NCSA) in 1983, re-staging 17 Balanchine ballets for NCSA student performances.
During her 23 years as an instructor at NCSA, Hayden also maintained her international outreach and influence, teaching groups ranging from the National Ballet of Turkey, to the Santiago Ballet, and Star Dancers in Tokyo. Hayden died on August 9, 2006.
To learn more about Melissa Hayden, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
See also: Dance Performance in the United States
Sources: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 604-606; Rasa Gustaitis, Melissa Hayden, Ballerina (New York, 1967); New York Times, January 14, 1962, April 11, 1966; www.ncarts.edu/pressreleases/Releases2006/Aug2006/melissahayden.htm.