Kinetochores mediate chromosome segregation at mitosis. They are thought to contain both active, force-producing and passive, frictional interfaces with microtubules whose relative locations have been unclear. We inferred mechanical deformation within single kinetochores during metaphase oscillations by measuring average separations between fluorescently labeled kinetochore subunits in living cells undergoing mitosis. Inter-subunit distances were shorter in kinetochores moving toward poles than in those moving away. Inter-subunit separation decreased abruptly when kinetochores switched to poleward movement and decreased further when pulling force increased, suggesting that active force generation during poleward movement compresses kinetochores. The data revealed an active force-generating interface within kinetochores and a separate passive frictional interface located at least 20 nanometers away poleward. Together, these interfaces allow persistent attachment with intermittent active force generation.