Adele Cornalba was known to Americans as the premiere danseuse of Stephen Seville's Great English Ballet that toured the country's major cities in the early 1880s. Trained at La Scala in Milan from the age of seven, she was eighteen when she appeared in her first leading role.
As the most reputable classical dancer in the United States, Cornalba could pick her jobs. In 1882 William T. Carleton enticed her to head the ballet of his Norcross Opera Company dancing its extravaganza "The Merry War." She alternated high-paying stints with overblown spectacles, such as "The Merry War," "The Devil's Auction" (1883), Bartley Campbell's "Clio," or "The Arabian Nights" (1887), with vehicles in which dancing appeared more tactfully, such as "Michael Strogoff" (1885) or the Kiralfy Ballet Company's staging "Lagardere, The Hunchback of Paris" (1887-1888). Because of the underpayment of classical dancers, Cornalba declined engagements with opera houses in the United States.
As a dancer she impressed with the lightness of her steps. "Her poisings, her evolutions, her undulations were as dainty as the descent of a snowflake through unruffled ether." Technically masterful, she nonetheless came under increasing criticism in the 1890s for her lack of "personality." She was a leading exponent of mimetic dancing, subordinating her own style or take on the roles as given her. Her final American engagements were in various pantomimes in the early 1890s. David S. Shields/ALS