Donald Mahler, prolific ballet choreographer, dies at 88

Donald Mahler, prolific Metropolitan Opera ballet dancer and choreographer, who led the company’s own dance troupe and was also internat...


Donald Mahler, prolific Metropolitan Opera ballet dancer and choreographer, who led the company’s own dance troupe and was also internationally known for his ballet productions by Anthony Tudor, died January 25 in Roslyn Heights, NY, on Long Island. He was 88 years old.

His sisters and sole immediate survivors, Judith Dickinson and Johanna Loeb, confirmed the death. They said he was in poor health and died at Ms Loeb’s home, where he moved to last year.

In a decidedly unconventional career, Mr. Mahler was as adept at choreographing a shortened version of “Cinderella” for children as he was at re-enacting “Echoing of Trumpets,” a 1963 work by Mr. Tudor about the brutalities of war.

One of the greatest ballet choreographers of the 20th century and a founding member of the American Ballet Theatre, Mr. Tudor was not one to please those seeking upbeat entertainment. Yet his dark ballets were vitally important, as Clive Barnes noted in a Dance Magazine review of Mr. Mahler’s staging of “Echoing of Trumpets” for Ballet West in Salt Lake City in 2006.

“Mahler did a great job not just replicating but setting the choreography,” Mr. Barnes wrote. He added that the ballet’s impact remained powerful, “making Mahler’s revival all the more important in keeping this 20th-century masterpiece – a crucial work for the Tudor catalog – alive and vibrant”.

Mr. Mahler was also associated for many years with the New York Theater Ballet, a highly respected small company founded and directed by Diana Byer which promotes new works and revivals of rare old ones.

Ms Byer said in a telephone interview that in coaching his young dancers, Mr Mahler “combined serious purpose with infectious childlike wonder”, adding: “He was very witty. And he taught these dancers how to deepen a role.

Mr. Tudor was Mr. Mahler’s artistic mentor. But Ms Byer said that for personal guidance, Mr Mahler devoted himself to the teachings of Indian spiritual teacher Meher Baba, who died in 1969. (Among several other American dancers who became Baba’s disciples were Viola Farber and Peter Saul de Merce Cunningham’s Many of them, including Mr. Mahler, had studied ballet in New York with Margaret Craske, who had lived in Baba’s community in India during World War II.)

Like many ballet dancers, Donald Freisinger had a different name before he started his career as Donald Mahler. He was born on February 16, 1933 in Brooklyn. His mother, Frances (Abramowitz) Freisinger, was a homemaker. His father, Eugene Freisinger, worked in the wool processing business.

Donald moved to Manhattan with his family when he was a teenager. There he entered the prestigious High School of Music and Art (now LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts) as an aspiring painter.

An art scholarship brought him to Syracuse University. But, he says, discovering dance led him to drop out and return to New York, where he was accepted into the school of the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. Mr. Tudor and Mrs. Craske were his teachers there, and Mr. Tudor recommended him to the National Ballet of Canada, where Mr. Mahler spent five years.

He returned to New York and began dancing in Metropolitan opera productions in 1962. He retired as a dancer in 1980 and was appointed director of the Metropolitan Opera Ballet in 1982.

He choreographed for this company and for many operas until 1986. A second career opened up for him when the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust invited him to direct or coach Tudor works for companies around the world.

When asked to define his belief in his mentor, Mr. Mahler once replied, “Tudor ballets are really about humanity. He dives deep into what motivates people, and he wants that truth.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Donald Mahler, prolific ballet choreographer, dies at 88
Donald Mahler, prolific ballet choreographer, dies at 88
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