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George Balanchine

George Balanchine

The Russian-born American choreographer George Balanchine (1904-1983) formed and established the classical style of contemporary ballet in America. His choreography emphasized form rather than content, technique rather than interpretation.

George Balanchine, born Georgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze in St. Petersburg, Russia, on January 22, 1904, was the son of a famous Russian composer. At the age of 10, he entered the Imperial Ballet School, where he learned the technically precise and athletic Russian dancing style. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Balanchine continued his training in a new government theater. In 1921 he entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music to study piano while continuing work in ballet at the State Academy of Opera and Ballet. He used a group of dancers from the school to present his earliest choreographed works. One of the students was Tamara Gevergeyeva, later known as Tamara Geva, whom Balanchine married in 1922. She was the first of his four wives, who were all dancers. In 1924, when the group was invited to tour Europe as the Soviet State Dancers, Balanchine defected.

He was discovered in 1925 in Paris by the ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev. When Diaghilev's most famous choreographer, Nijinska, left his ballet company, Balanchine took her place; at the age of 21 he was the ballet master and principal choreographer of the most famous ballet corps in the world. It was Diaghilev who changed the Russian's name to Balanchine. Balanchine did 10 ballets for him. When Diaghilev died and the company disbanded in 1929, Balanchine moved from one company to another until in 1933 he formed his own company, Les Ballets. That year he met Lincoln Kirstein, a young, rich American, who invited him to head the new School of American Ballet in New York City.

With the School of American Ballet and later with the New York City Ballet, Balanchine established himself as one of the world's leading contemporary classical choreographers. Almost single-handedly he brought academic excellence and quality performance to the American ballet, which had been merely a weak copy of the great European companies.

In 1934 the American Ballet Company became the resident company at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Audiences were treated to three new Balanchine ballets: Apollo, The Card Party, and The Fairy's Kiss—works that revolutionized American classical ballet style. But Balanchine's daring ballet style and the Metropolitan's conservative artistic policy caused a breach that ultimately terminated the alliance in 1938. His work in the next several years included choreography for Broadway shows and films and two ballets created in 1941 for the American Ballet Caravan, a touring group: Ballet Imperial and Concerto Barocco.

In 1946, following Kirstein's return from service in World War II, he and Balanchine established a new company, the Ballet Society. Initially financed by and limited to subscribers, in 1948 it was opened to the public. The performance of Balanchine's Orpheus was so successful that his company was invited to establish permanent residence at the New York City Center. It did so and was renamed the New York City Ballet. Finally, Balanchine had a school, a company, and a permanent theater. He developed the New York City Ballet into the foremost classical company in America, and to some critics, in the world. Here he created some of his most enduring works, including his Nutcracker and Agon. After the New York City Ballet moved to Lincoln Center's New York State Theatre in 1964, Balanchine added such wide-ranging works as Don Quixote and Union Jack.

Balanchine's choreography was not tied to the virtuosity of the ballerina, the plot, or the decor but to pure dance. The drama was in the dance, and movement was solely related to the music—a perfect dance equivalent to music. For Balanchine, the movement of the body alone created artistic excitement and evoked images of fantasy or reality. He emphasized balance, control, precision, and ease of movement. He rejected the traditional sweet style of romantic ballet, as well as the more acrobatic style of theatrical ballet, in favor of a neoclassic style stripped to its essentials—motion, movement, and music. His dancers became precision instruments of the choreographer, whose ideas and designs came from the music itself.

Balanchine died in New York City on April 30, 1983. Summing up his career in the New York Times, Anna Kisselgoff said, "More than anyone else, he elevated choreography in ballet to an independent art… In an age when ballet had been dependent on a synthesis of spectacle, storytelling, décor, mime, acting and music, and only partly on dancing, George Balanchine insisted that the dance element come first."

Further Reading

Bernard Taper, Balanchine (1963), is a popular biography. Balanchine is given extensive coverage in George Amberg, Ballet in America: The Emergence of an American Art (1949); Olga Maynard, The American Ballet (1959); Joan Lawson, A History of Ballet and Its Makers (1964); and Ferdinando Reyna, A Concise History of Ballet (trans. 1965).

Additional Sources

Buckle, Richard, and John Taras, George Balanchine: Ballet Master (Random House, 1988).

Mason, Francis, I Remember Balanchine: Recollections of the Ballet Master by Those Who Knew Him (Doubleday, 1991).

New York Times (May 1, 1983). □

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Balanchine, George

George Balanchine

Born: January 22, 1904
St. Petersburg, Russia
Died: April 30, 1983
New York, New York

Russian-born American choreographer

The Russian-born American choreographer George Balanchine formed and established the classical style (relating to music in the European tradition) of ballet in America.

Early life

George Balanchine was born Georgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze in St. Petersburg, Russia, on January 22, 1904, the son of Meliton and Maria (Vassiliev) Balanchivadze. His father was a composer. Balanchine studied the piano as a child and considered a career in the military, which his mother encouraged. However, at the age of ten, he entered the Imperial Ballet School, where he learned the precise and athletic Russian dancing style.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917 (the rebellion of the Russian people against the ruler of Russia), Balanchine continued his training in a new government theater. In 1921 he entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music to study piano while continuing work in ballet at the State Academy of Opera and Ballet. He used a group of dancers from the school to present his earliest choreographed works. One of the students was Tamara Gevergeyeva, whom Balanchine married in 1922. She was the first of his four wives, all of whom were dancers. In 1924, when the group traveled to Europe to perform as the Soviet State Dancers, Balanchine refused to return to the Soviet Union.

The manager of the Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev (18721929), discovered Balanchine in 1925 in Paris, France. When Diaghilev's most famous choreographer, Nijinska, left the group, Balanchine took her place. At the age of twenty-one he became the main choreographer of the most famous ballet company (a group of ballet dancers who perform together) in the world. Balanchine did ten ballets for Diaghilev, and it was Diaghilev who changed the Russian's name to Balanchine. When Diaghilev died and the company broke up in 1929, Balanchine moved from one company to another until, in 1933, he formed his own company, Les Ballets.

Work in America

Also in 1933 Balanchine met Lincoln Kirstein, a young, rich American, who invited him to head the new School of American Ballet in New York City. With the School of American Ballet and later with the New York City Ballet, Balanchine established himself as one of the world's leading classical choreographers. Almost single-handedly he brought standards of excellence and quality performance to the American ballet, which up to that point had been merely a weak copy of the great European companies.

In 1934 the American Ballet Company became the resident company at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Audiences were treated to three new Balanchine ballets, Apollo, The Card Party, and The Fairy's Kiss works that revolutionized American classical ballet style. Balanchine's style proved a bit too daring for the Metropolitan, leading to a conflict that ended the working relationship in 1938. Over the next several years he worked on Broadway shows and films and two ballets, Ballet Imperial and Concerto Barocco, which were created in 1941 for the American Ballet Caravan, a touring group.

In 1946, following Kirstein's return from service in World War II (193945), he and Balanchine established a new company, the Ballet Society. The performance of Balanchine's Orpheus was so successful that his company was invited to establish permanent residence at the New York City Center. It did so and was renamed the New York City Ballet. Finally Balanchine had a school, a company, and a permanent theater. He developed the New York City Ballet into the leading classical company in Americaand, to some critics, in the world. Here he created some of his most enduring works, including his Nutcracker and Agon.

Keys to his success

Balanchine's choreography was not dependent on the ballerina's skills, the plot, or the sets, but on pure dance. The drama was in the dance, and movement was solely related to the music. For Balanchine the movement of the body alone created artistic excitement. He placed great importance on balance, control, precision, and ease of movement. He rejected the traditional sweet style of romantic ballet, as well as the more acrobatic style of theatrical ballet, in favor of a style that was stripped to its essentialsmotion, movement, and music. His dancers became instruments of the choreographer, whose ideas and designs came from the music itself.

Balanchine died in New York City on April 30, 1983. Summing up his career in the New York Times, Anna Kisselgoff said, "More than anyone else, he elevated choreography in ballet to an independent art. In an age when ballet had been dependent on a synthesis (combination) of spectacle, storytelling, décor, mime, acting and music, and only partly on dancing, George Balanchine insisted that the dance element come first."

For More Information

Buckle, Richard, and John Taras. George Balanchine, Ballet Master. New York: Random House, 1988.

Kristy, Davida. George Balanchine: American Ballet Master. Minneapolis: Lerner, 1996.

McDonagh, Don. George Balanchine. Boston: Twayne, 1983.

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Balanchine, George

George Balanchine (băl´ənshēn´), 1904–83, American choreographer and ballet dancer, b. St. Petersburg, Russia, as Georgi Balanchivadze. The son of a Georgian composer and a Russian mother, Balanchine attended (1913–21) the Imperial Ballet School, St. Petersburg, and performed in Russia. In 1924 he toured Europe and joined Diaghilev's Ballets Russes as a principal dancer and choreographer (1924–29). After moving to the United States (1933), he became director of ballet for the Metropolitan Opera House (1934–37) and a founder, with Lincoln Kirstein, of the School of American Ballet (1934). In 1946 the two men founded the company that would become the New York City Ballet, and in 1948 Balanchine was named its artistic director and principal choreographer.

Balanchine's more than 200 dance works include Prodigal Son (1929), Serenade (1934), Concerto Barocco (1941), Symphony in C (1947), Bourrée Fantasque (1949), Agon (1957), Seven Deadly Sins (1958), Don Quixote (1965), and Kammermusik No. 2 (1978). He choreographed for films, operas, and musicals as well, creating Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1968), his most famous theatrical piece, for the musical On Your Toes. As the major figure in mid-20th-century ballet, Balanchine established both a new Russian-American dance culture and the dynamic, inventive modern style of classical American ballet, while freeing ballet from the symmetrical and ornamental forms that had dominated since the 19th cent. Most of his works emphasize formalist patterns of pure movement rather than plot, stressing a spare and rigorous technique-based dance aesthetic. He never lost his creative instincts and continually experimented with new forms and movements, as seen in his controversial 1980 work, Schumann's Davidsbundlertanze. In 1987, after his death, two former associates founded the Balanchine Trust, an organization that maintains the integrity of his ballets by overseeing their leasing and staging.

See biographies by B Taper (rev. ed. 1984), R. Gottlieb (2004), and T. Teachout (2004); M. Ashley, Dancing for Balanchine (1984); F. Mason, ed., I Remember Balanchine (1991); R. Garis, Following Balanchine (1995); S. Schorer and R. Lee, Suki Schorer on Balanchine Technique (1999); C. M. Joseph, Stravinsky and Balanchine (2002); N. Goldner, Balanchine Variations (2008).

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Balanchine, George

Balanchine, George [ George Balanchivadze] (b St Petersburg, 1904; d NY, 1983). Russ.-Amer. choreographer. Thorough mus. training. Imperial Sch. of Ballet 1914–21. Left Russ. 1924. After an appearance in Paris, was engaged by Diaghilev as choreographer. Stravinsky's Apollo Musagetes had Balanchine choreog. for its first Paris perf. (1928). (Other Stravinsky works were later choreog. by Balanchine, incl. Orpheus, Jeu de Cartes, Baiser de la fée, Danses concertantes, Movements, and Agon.) In 1932 became choreog. for Col. de Basil's Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. In 1934 went to USA to create Amer. Ballet Co., début 1935. This was resident ballet at NY Met 1935–8, when it was disbanded. Balanchine then worked as teacher and free-lance choreog. (incl. Hollywood films). Co-founder Ballet Soc. (1946) which became celebrated NY City Ballet, 1948, with Balanchine as art. dir. From this period dates his great and influential work for modern dance. Among ballets he choreog. were: The Prodigal Son ( Prokofiev) 1929, Ballet Imperial ( Tchaikovsky) 1941, Night Shadow ( Bellini–Rieti) 1946, La Valse ( Ravel) 1951, Ivesiana ( Ives) 1954, 7 Deadly Sins ( Weill) 1958, Slaughter on 10th Avenue ( Rodgers) 1968, Duo Concertante ( Stravinsky) 1970. Among musicals he choreographed were: On your Toes (1936), The Boys from Syracuse (1938). Also worked as opera producer ( Stravinsky's Rake's Progress, NY 1953; Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, Hamburg 1962).

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Balanchine, George

Balanchine, George (1904–83) US choreographer and ballet dancer. One of the greatest artists in 20th-century ballet, in 1924 Balanchine defected from Russia to work as principal dancer and choreographer for Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. He moved to the USA in 1933, established the School of American Ballet and was director of the Metropolitan Opera ballet (1934–37). He became the first artistic director and choreographer of the New York City Ballet (1948). Credited with creating US neo-classical ballet, he also undertook film choreography for Ziegfeld and Goldwyn Follies. Ballet pieces include The Nutcracker (1954) and Don Quixote (1965).

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