Adeline Genée (1878-1970)

Adeline Genée
(signed, hand-tinted postcard, gloss, Aristophat, 099, c. 1906)

Adeline Genée was born in Århus, Denmark on January 6, 1878, the survivor of twins. Her original name was Anina Kirstina Margarete Petra Jensen and, at the age of three, she began dancing lessons with her uncle, Alexandre Genée, who was a dance master. At the age of eight, she was adopted by her uncle and aunt, taking Genée as her last name and choosing Adeline as her first name after the famed Italian opera singer, Adelina Patti.

Adeline Genée
Adeline Genée in Coppelia
Click photo to enlarge
Adeline Genée
Sheet-music for
The Soul Kiss
Click photo to enlarge

Aged ten, she made her dancing debut with her uncle's touring company in Oslo. In 1895, she became the principal dancer at the Royal Opera House in Copenhagen. Subsequently, in 1896, she danced with two ballet companies in Berlin, her classic style and precision soon attracting considerable attention. In 1897, she went to London for a six-week engagement but, after being appointed the prima ballerina at the Empire Theatre, London, she was to stay for ten years.

At the time, ballet was all but ignored in Britain but, by introducing short dances into its variety programs, the theatre began to establish an audience for more elaborate works. Normally wearing a costume in the 1830s style, she captivated those who watched her with her artistry, grace and agility, becoming known 'The Dancer with the Twinkling Feet'.

In 1905, during a break for the Empire, she starred in the musical play, The Little Michus, at Daly's Theatre. It ran for 400 performances. In the same year, she became the first dancer to perform before King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.

Back at the Empire Theatre, on May 14, 1906, she appeared as Swanhilda in Coppelia, the first time the classical ballet had been presented in Britain - twenty-six years after its opening at Theatre Imperial de l'Opera, Paris, on May 25, 1870, and nineteen years after it had been premiered in New York at the Metropolitan Opera House.

She finally left the Empire Theatre in November 1907 and sailed to the United States where she was to star in the musical extravaganza, The Soul Kiss, that opened at the New York Theatre on January 28, 1908. Florenz Ziegfeld, who produced the show, advertised Adeline Genée as being 'the world's greatest dancer'. The show was an enormous success, running for 122 performances before going on a coast-to-coast tour, during which, as she had done in England, she made thousands of people aware that dance was a true art form that could be both elevating and entertaining.

This is part of an article on Adeline Genée's New York debut in The Soul Kiss.

The fickle, airy fancy of Broadway is like a butterfly on the wing - you never can tell just where or upon what it is going to alight. Yet there is always a dash of discrimination, an underlying sentiment of natural selection, in its choice of affinities; and when the gay old White Way goes wild over an attraction bearing the transcendental title of The Soul Kiss, you run no great risk in wagering that there is something uncommonly bewitching in the woman behind the kiss.

Her name is Adeline Genée. She has been London's little Danish sweet heart for the past decade or so, and now she may be New York's as long as she will. Her dainty blond personality, when in repose, is of the type that suggests the apt though overworked comparison of 'Dresden china'. But when she dances and smiles and smiles through her dancing, in every ethereal poise and pirouette, then we must fly for similes to the breeze-born petals of the rose - to the thistle-down, and the sprites and sylphs of the sunbeam.

...But Genée, besides being a classical elève of the ballet school, is an accomplished pantomimiste, and an intelligent actress as well. Thus the scope of her expression is infinitely widened, both as to her individual joy in the dance and the interpretation of an idea or a rôle.

Talent like this really calls for a vehicle play, or at least one of Mr. Ziegfeld's 'musical entertainments', to carry it along through an evening; and, as such, it is but fair to say that The Soul Kiss, in local parlance, is 'going some'...

Genée has four scenes, each with its appropriate pantomime dance. In the first, the Parisian New Year's night revel, she is an easy winner of the 'soul kiss' competition. At Monte Carlo she appears like a second Danaë, flashing through a the grand balabille amidst a shower of gold Napoleons and bank-notes. Her own specific pas de fascination is in her dressing room scene, in the second act - a charmingly refined bit of genuine pantomime dancing.

But the danse de chasse, or hunting dance, at the finale, is the original creation which stands out surpassingly amongst all of Mlle. Genée's divertissements. A romantic forest glade in autumn is reproduced with all the wizardry of the scene-builder's craft. You can almost scent the red fox streaking by. The horn of the hunter is heard on the hill; the music of the pack responds - here they come, in full cry, a score or more of spotted hounds, the very real thing, dashing across the stage as if it were Nassau County, Long Island; the red-coats follow fast, and - ah! the fair Amazon, Genée, a modern Diana in English riding habit, booted and spurred, comes at a mad gallop! No, she is not mounted, but she might as well be - the illusion is all there, as she alternately checks her imaginary hunter and gives him the rein, takes a water jump and a fence ot two, and is in at the death - see! she has dismounted, and is triumphantly waving the brush.

The Theatre Magazine, March 1908

For the next few years, she repeated this success, annually returning to the United States for a New York opening of a new show, followed by a prolonged winter tour. In 1910, she starred in the new musical The Silver Star that opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre on November 1 before transferring to the Grand Opera House.

Adeline Genée, the famous dancer, came to the New Amsterdam Theater on Monday night in Klaw & Erinnger's production of The Silver Star a musical play written for her by Harry B. Smith and others. Mlle. Genée does not speak a word until just before the final curtain, but her pantomime and dancing are remarkable for grace and beauty. The piece is a clever mixture of musical comedy, as New York knows it, and the pantomime so popular in London. The production is gorgeous to the limit with spectacular effects. There is a carload of massive scenery, and many beautiful and novel costumes. Notable scenes show the interior of the Grand Opera House In Paris and a picturesque spot on the river Thames. Mlle. Genée makes her first appearance as one of the decorations of a huge and brilliantly lighted Christmas tree, and represents a doll, a soldier and other toys, changing her costume with each impersonation. In the second act she introduces dances showing the spirit of revelry. The ballet accompanying these dances is magnificent in costuming color. Mlle. Genée captured the audience and during the evening was called to the footlights again and again. The comedy of the piece is furnished by Harry Watson and George Bickel. "The Silver Star" is a wonderful spectacle, and Genée an exquisite dancer and pantomimist.
Galveston Daily News, 7th November, 1909

At the end of the tour, she returned to London where, on June 11, 1910, she married Frank S N Isitt, a rich lawyer, a director of the Yorkshire Insurance Company and a legal adviser to many aristocrats including the Duke of Newcastle who gave the bride away at the fashionable wedding that was attended by many celebrities.


Adeline Genée Adeline Genée Adeline Genée
Click photo to enlarge

That autumn, she was back in New York, starring in another new musical, The Bachelor Belles that opened at the Globe Theatre on November 7. At the end of then tour, in April 1911, Alexis Kosloff presented her with an elaborate silver trophy inscribed "To the World's Greatest Dancer".

In 1912, she presented at New York's Metropolitan Opera House a "Programme of Variety", that included her famed interpretation of the pantomime dance La Camargo .


...However well she has danced before, she seemed to have gained an added skill and an added grace yesterday. Her stimulation of girlishness, her perfect technique and her almost peculiar ability to dance 'all over', with her arms and hands and face as well as her feet, kept the audience either attentively quiet or active with spontaneous applause.

The New York Times review of December 4, 1912

She went to Australia in 1913 for an enormously successful tour organised by J. C. Williamson organisation. Billed as 'The World's Greatest Dancer', she danced with members of the Imperial Russian Ballet, including Alexander Volinin. The season opened in Melbourne on June 21 with Coppelia. The company then moved to Sydney, opening on August 16. Her final appearance in was on October 8,. The theatre was crowded and when took her curtain-call, posies showered at her feet. In her farewell speech, she said:

It is very difficult for a dancer to make a speech. She can do anything with her feet, but there it ends. But I cannot part from you all without an expression of gratitude for the kindness and enthusiasm which have attended the efforts of my associates and myself. I would ask you to keep a teeny-weeny corner in your hearts for me now and ever.

The next day Adeline Genée and the company sailed to New Zealand for a short tour. n February, 1914, she returned to London to fulfil an engagement at the Empire: Although, afterwards, there was some talk of her retirement, she continued to perform in London. Her last major professional appearance was dancing The Pretty Prentice in a variety show at the Coliseum Theatre that opened in April 1916 and included in the bill 'Madame Hanako and her company of Japanese Players'.

Immediately the show ended, Adeline Genée, at the height of her fame, retired from the professional stage although she occasionally performed in charity and commemorative events. One of these was at a matinée of the Association of Operatic Dancing at the Gaiety Theatre on November 8, 1923:

The fact that the President of the Association, Madame Adeline Genée, was to appear herself, proved an immense attraction to the public, who came from all parts of the country to see this great artist dance again, and when the curtain went up for the first item there was not a seat to be had in the house...

'For the last item of the first half of the programme we enjoyed the privilege of seeing Adeline Genée once again upon the stage. It is six or seven years since she last dance, and of course 'pointe' work was out of the question. She therefore gave a scrupulously authentic representation of some eighteenth century dances, in which she was accompanied by the Chaplin Trio on their old-world instruments. The steps of these dances were all straightforward terre à terre steps, but they were perfectly executed, and once again the point was brought home that had she not been a dancer Madame Genée could have been a great comedy actress.

The Dancing Times, London, December 1923

After the last of her public performances, she continued to be actively involved in the continued development of English ballet. In 1920, she became the first president of the Association of Operatic Dancing of Great Britain which was later to become the Royal Academy of Dancing. It was a position that she was to hold until 1954.

In 1931, the Adeline Genée Medal Awards were instituted in the United Kingdom in her honour and they still remain one of the most important awards of excellence given to young dancers.

In 1939, after a happy albeit childless marriage, Adeline Genée's husband died. For much of the next 31 years, until her death, she continued her active involvement in dance training, particularly with the Royal Academy of Dancing.

In 1950, she was created Dame of the Order of the British Empire for her services to ballet.

Dame Adeline Genée-Isitt died on April 23, 1970, aged 92.

You may also be interested in these associated sites:

The Camerino Players

Medieval Drama Links

Bibliography of Cornish Medieval Drama

Any suggestions or comments? Please write to me: Mail Me
© 2009 Sydney Higgins Site Designed by Ian Jordan