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Repertory Archive

Oliver Smith


Oliver Smith (1918-1994) was one of the most distinguished and prolific scenic designers in American history. After graduating from Penn State, he came to New York City and began to work in the theatre, forming friendships that blossomed into working relationships with luminaries including Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, Carson McCullers, and Agnes de Mille. Mr. Smith’s design career was launched by his designs for Massine’s ballet Saratoga in 1941 and Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo in 1942 (produced by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo). He went on to numerous Broadway assignments, including On the Town, Brigadoon, West Side Story, My Fair Lady, Camelot, and Hello, Dolly!; the films Guys and Dolls, The Band Wagon, Oklahoma! and Porgy and Bess; La Traviata for the Metropolitan Opera; and for American Ballet Theatre, Estuary, Fall River Legend, Giselle, Interplay, Les Noces, and Swan Lake. Mr. Smith was also Artistic Consultant for the Oscar-nominated feature film, The Turning Point as well as the principal scenic contributor to Jerome Robbins’ Broadway and the winner of seven Tony Awards. Mr. Smith’s association with American Ballet Theatre began in 1944, when he collaborated with Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein on Fancy Free, certainly one of the most successful of twentieth century ballets, and the inspiration for On the Town. The following year, he became Co-Director of ABT with Lucia Chase, a position he held until 1980. His lifelong commitment to dance helped produce one of the world’s greatest dance companies. Mr. Smith also trained young designers for many years, serving on the faculty of the New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. There he taught master classes in scenic design (for which he received NYU’s Great Teacher Award in 1981). In both his design work and his teaching, Mr. Smith emphasized the graceful choreography of moving scenery, and the importance of its interaction with the human form.