Mikhail Mikhajlowitsch Fokine was born on 26. April 1880 in St. Petersburg. After studying dance at the Imperial Ballet Academy he joined the Imperial Ballet at the Mariinskij-Theatre in 1898, advancing to the rank of soloist only a few years later. Fokine increasingly acquired a displeasure for the ballet of his times; to his mind, it suffered from the popular dismissal of music as pure accompaniment, the at best tangent relation between costumes, stage design and plot-lines, and the dance itself which had become merely a demonstration of technical virtuosity. For these reasons he developed new choreographic concepts which aimed at integrating these seemingly separate aspects into a Gesamtkunstwerk. Fokine maintained that choreography should correspond to a given plot, its temporal context and the music it was set to. Dance and pantomime he considered to be subservient to the overall dramatic expression of a piece. This, his artistic credo, was formulated precisely in 1914 in a letter he wrote to the London "Times".
The Dying Swan (1907) for the ballerina Anna Pawlowa, Chopiniana (1907; reworked and performed as Les Sylphides in 1909) and Le Pavillon d'Armide (1907) belong to Fokine's early work. In 1909, Fokine was invited by Serge Diaghilew to Paris to work as head-choreographer for his company, the Ballets Russes, in which capacity Fokine created Le Carneval, The Firebird and Shéhérazade in 1910, Petrouchka and Le Spectre de la Rose the year after, and Daphnis and Chloé, Joseph's Legend and Le Coq d’Or in 1912. Two years later, Fokine and Diaghilew terminated their collaboration due to artistic differences. In 1919, Fokine settled in New York and continued to work as a choreographer for companies the world over, though he remained active as a dancer for many years. While his early works from the Diaghilew-era became canonical, his later ballets failed to match the success the former had met with. He died on 22. August 1942 in New York. His memoires, which unfortunately only encompass the years until 1914, were posthumously published in 1961. His grand-daughter, Isabelle Fokine, is currently preparing and editing a republication.