Janet Collins, prima ballerina of the Metropolitan Opera House in the early 1950s and one of the few black women to become prominent in American classical ballet, died May 28 in her home in Fort Worth, Tex. She was 86.
Collins taught dance, choreographed, performed on Broadway and in film and appeared frequently on television. But she was best known as the first black artist to perform at the Met, four years before Marian Anderson sang there.
In 1950, she appeared on Broadway as Night, dancing an airborne solo choreographed by Hanya Holm in the Cole Porter’s “Out of This World.” At the Met, she nabbed lead roles in “Aida,” “Carmen,” the Dance of the Hours in “La Gioconda” and the Bacchanale in “Samson and Delilah.”
New Orleans native moved with her family to Los Angeles at age 4 and alter studied with Carmelita Maracci, one of the few ballet teachers who accepted black students. She auditioned in Los Angeles for the Ballet Russe, but ran up against prejudice. With Katherine Dunham’s company, she performed in the 1943 film musical “Stormy Weather.” She also danced a solo choreographed by Jack Cole in the 1946 film “The Thrill of Brazil.”
She also toured with Talley Beatty in a nightclub act sometimes billed as “Rea and Rico De Gard.”
She is survived by a brother and sister.