3. Great Fortune: Rockefeller Center

Russell Markert anda Rockettes.

Russell Markert and the Rockettes in 1946.

 

 

 

Learn more... "Russell Markert by Rachel Straus"

Financial Stability

Upon leaving the Army, he pursued a career in finance with the goal of securing his family's financial stability. But the theater bug bit him again. Markert took his first dance and acrobatic classes with a local Brooklyn teacher named Thelma Entwhistle, who said, "My God, you're too much for me," in response to his nascent talent. Then in 1922 he saw the Ziegfeld Follies. Markert found the Follies short and lacking in choreographic versatility, but he marveled at their "wondrous precision" and vowed to one day "get 16 American girls—taller—kicking higher and doing lots of tap dancing." And in just a few years, he got his chance.

Choreographing an all-female show in 1923

After dancing on Broadway, serving as dance director assistant for Earl Carroll's Vanities (1923) and choreographing an all-female show for the Cotton Club in 1924, acrobatic. This female dance troupe later relocated to N.Y.C and underwent two name changes (the American Rockets and Roxyettes), before permanently moving into the new 6,200-seat Radio City Music Hall in Rockefeller Center in 1932. Two years later, the leggy ladies became forever known as the Rockettes.

In the early years, Markert made a new show three or four times a month. The dancers performed four times a day. Rehearsals began at 7:00 a.m. sharp, and the pace was relentless. Nevertheless he became known for his paternal instincts, treating "his girls" like daughters. Once accepted into the troupe, the young women earned a good living and were given chaperoned dormitory lodging catty-corner to the seven-story theater. Markert encouraged them to seek out his advice and he made them into American success stories. Because his goal was visual uniformity and his style required shoulder-to-shoulder teamwork, the dancers formed "a unique sisterhood," says former Rockette Corliss Whitney. There was absolutely no star system.

Markert retired in 1971

By the time Markert retired in 1971, he had trained 3,000 dancers and won the Grand Prix with the Rockettes at the 1937 Paris Exposition. But Radio City had been losing money since the 1960s, making cuts to its orchestra, ballet troupe and a number of performances, and an aging Markert could no longer produce the grand spectacles he had grown accustomed to. His bequest was a formula that revolutionized American theatrical dance and his Christmas Spectacular has become a holiday family entertainment tradition, still performed at Radio City and across the United States.

Additional Resources

Articles:

"A Little Respect, Please, for a High-Kicking New York Institution," by Gia Kourlas, The New York Times, December 24, 2005

"Hide Your Daughters, Here Comes Russ Markert," by Robert Roman, Dance Magazine, September 1969

"Music: Rockettes to Paris," Time, June 21, 1937

Books:

International Encyclopedia of Dance, "Radio City Music Hall," by Robert Moulton, Cambridge, MA: Oxford University Press, 1998, 2005

The Radio City Music Hall, by Charles Francisco, New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, 1979

Film:

The King of Jazz, directed by John Murray Anderson, with choreography by Russell Markert, Universal Studios, 1930

Moulin Rouge, directed by Sidney Lanfeld, with choreography by Russell Markert, Twentieth Century Pictures, 1934

Radio City Christmas Spectacular, directed by Beth McCarthy-Miller, with choreography by Russell Markert, Hewitt Group, 2007

"Russell Eldridge Markert, Dead, 91"

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