Hayden, Melissa (1923—)

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Hayden, Melissa (1923—)

Canadian-born ballerina. Born Mildred Herman on April 25, 1923, in Toronto, Canada; daughter of Jacob and Kate Herman; attended Lansdowne Street elementary school; studied ballet with Boris Volkoff, Toronto, and Anatole Vilzak and Ludmila Shollar, New York; married Donald Hugh Coleman, Jr., in February 1954; children: one son, Stuart.

Canadian-born ballerina Melissa Hayden was working as a bookkeeper and part-time secretary and attending dance classes at night when Anatole Chujoy, editor of The Dance Encyclopedia, saw her in a ballet class and encouraged her to become a professional dancer. Following his suggestion, Hayden went to New York in 1945 and almost immediately found a job as a member of the Radio City Music Hall corps de ballet. Continuing her studies with Anatole Vilzak and Ludmila Shollar , Hayden was next influenced by choreographer Michael Kidd, who saw her dance and recommended her to Lucia Chase , director of the Ballet Theatre (later American Ballet Theatre). Chase put Hayden in the company's corps de ballet, but the young dancer rose swiftly to the rank of soloist. After two and a half years, Hayden left the company for an engagement with the Ballet Alicia Alonso , on tour in South America. She returned in 1950 to join George Balanchine's New York City Ballet, where, aside from a brief return to the American Ballet Theatre, and various guest appearances with the Chicago Opera Ballet, she spent the length of her career.

Her debut with the New York City Ballet, in The Duel in February 1950, was highly praised. The role of the Saracen girl, wrote dance critic John Martin in The New York Times (February 25, 1950), "is danced magnificently by Melissa Hayden, who brings a tremendous dramatic strength onto the stage with her, as well as a technique that is lithe, powerful and supremely controlled. It is no less than an inspired performance." A month later, Hayden distinguished herself again as Profane Love in the premiere of Frederick Ashton's Illuminations. On December 4, on the occasion of her appearance in the Jerome Robbins' ballet, The Age of Anxiety, Martin wrote: "There is a mature, dramatic grasp of the role.…Here is truly danced emotion. There is no question that Miss Hayden dominates the work."

Hayden went on to perform in numerous ballets, including Bolender's The Miraculous Mandarin (1951), Robbins' The Pied Piper (1951), Balanchine's Caracole (1952), and Robbins' The Cage (1952). In 1952, she appeared in Charlie Chaplin's film Limelight, doubling for Claire Bloom in the dance sequence Death of a Harlequin, which Hayden performed with André Eglevsky. That year, she also appeared on television,

dancing again with Eglevsky on the " Kate Smith Show." It marked one of the earliest performances of classical ballet on the new medium.

From April 1953 to May 1954, Hayden rejoined the American Ballet Theatre, during which time she also married. She then retired to have a baby, returning to the New York City Ballet in February 1955. During the next decade, she made acclaimed appearances in Balanchine's Ivesiana (1955), Bolender's Still Point (1956), and in the premiere of Balanchine's Divertimento No. 15 (1956). She also danced in Agon (1957), Stars and Stripes (1958), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1962), and In the Night (1970) and frequently guest starred with other ballet companies, including the National Ballet of Canada, the Royal Ballet of London, and the Cullberg Ballet of Stockholm. In 1962, she received the Albert Einstein Award for Woman of Achievement of the Year.

Melissa Hayden retired in 1973, at which time she was awarded New York City's Handel Medallion. She performed for the last time at Wolf Trap Farm, Virginia, in September 1973, in Cortège hongroise, a ballet created especially for her. In retirement, Hayden served as artist-inresidence at Skidmore College, and in 1974 opened a dance school in Saratoga, New York. She became artistic director of the Pacific Northwest Dance (Seattle) in 1976. Her biography, Melissa Hayden—Off Stage and On, was published in 1963.


Candee, Marjorie Dent, ed. Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1955.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1983.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Hayden, Melissa (1923—)

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