Kirstein, Lincoln

views updated Jun 27 2018

Kirstein, Lincoln

(b. 4 May 1907 in Rochester, New York; d. 5 January 1996 in New York City), writer, critic, arts patron, cofounder of the New York City Ballet, and indefatigable champion of choreographer George Balanchine, whom he brought to the United States in 1933.

Kirstein was one of two children born to Louis E. Kirstein and Rose Stein. A maverick in the true sense of the word, Kirstein was a towering figure in the history of American ballet. Dance was not his first love (from an early age he wrote poetry and painted), nor was it his only love (at one time or another he wrote about film, sculpture, and photography). But it was the one that remained a constant presence in his life from his teen years and to which he made a contribution that is almost incalculable. Born in Rochester to parents of German Jewish heritage, he grew up in privileged circumstances in Boston, where his father, a partner in Filene’s department store with a passion for American history, became a well-known philanthropist. Kirstein inherited his father’s strong sense of civic responsibility together with his mother’s love of the arts and from an early age used his wealth and other less tangible gifts to benefit a host of arts institutions.

Kirstein attended Phillips Exeter Academy from 1921 to 1922 and the Berkshire School from 1922 to 1924. Like so many future members of the eastern elite, he went on to Harvard University. There he found himself at the nerve center of a group that transformed the landscape of American cultural life. In 1926, with Varían Fry, he founded the Hound & Horn, a literary review that during its seven years of existence published Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and Edmund Wilson as well as Kirstein’s first major essay on dance, “The Diaghilev Period” (1930). In 1927, with John Walker III and Edward M. M. Warburg, he founded the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art, which exhibited works by artists such as Isamu Noguchi, Buckminster Fuller, Constantin Brancusi, and Alexander Calder. By 1930, the year he graduated from Harvard, he was a member of the junior advisory committee of the New York Museum of Modern Art, where in the 1930s he curated a controversial show on American mural art, arranged a retrospective of the sculptor Gaston Lachaise and the first major exhibition of Walker Evans’s photographs, organized a Soviet film archive, and set up the country’s first dance archive. In 1932 he published his first book, Flesh Is Heir, a thinly veiled autobiographical novel full of references to the Ballets Russes.

That celebrated company, which Serge Diaghilev founded and then directed from 1909 to 1929, inspired Kirstein’s love of ballet. He first saw the company perform in 1916, when it toured the United States without its great star Vaslav Nijinsky. During the middle and late 1920s Kirstein kept up with the company on summer holidays in London. In New York Kirstein studied ballet with Michel Fokine, the Ballets Russes choreographer on whom Kirstein initially pinned his hopes for the development of a native American ballet. This was not to be. But Kirstein absorbed from the Ballets Russes the idea of ballet as an art of high seriousness, a feast for the eye, ear, and intellect, a mode of expression at once traditional but also modern, a form classical but open to experiment, and this model became his credo. In Diaghilev, a Napoleonic man of action with the soul of an artist and the taste of a connoisseur, he discovered a model for his own restless intelligence and ambition.

The turning point came in 1933, when Kirstein invited the Russian-born George Balanchine, Diaghilev’s last in-house choreographer, to form a company in New York. Their partnership transformed American ballet from a popular curiosity or European import to a respected art and lasted until Balanchine’s death in 1983. Initially they experienced more failures than successes. With the exception of the School of American Ballet, which opened its doors in 1934 and remained open into the twenty-first century, the companies they founded in the 1930s and the early 1940s quickly foundered. Of these none was more significant for Kirstein than Ballet Caravan. Founded in 1936, at the height of the Popular Front, this small touring company was an experiment in creating a repertory that was American in theme and modernist in form, a means of associating ballet with the country’s emerging avant-garde. Although Billy the Kid (1938), with music by Aaron Copland and choreography by Eugene Loring, is the only Caravan work still performed, for Kirstein the experience of directing a ballet company proved invaluable.

From 1943 to 1945 Kirstein served in the U.S. Army, where among other duties he supervised the recovery of the massive collection of art looted by the Nazis in Alt Aussee, Germany. Within a year of his discharge as a private first class, he again teamed up with Balanchine to form Ballet Society, a subscription-based organization that produced a host of new works, including two of Balanchine’s masterpieces, The Four Temperaments (1946) and Orpheus (1948). Most of the money came from Kirstein, who had received a substantial inheritance. Spending lavishly, he commissioned designs from Noguchi and second-generation surrealists like Kurt Seligmann and Esteban Francés and music from Igor Stravinsky, Elliott Carter, John Cage, and Gian Carlo Menotti (for the opera The Telephone, 1947). By 1948, when Kirstein’s funds were becoming rapidly depleted, Morton Baum, chairman of the executive committee of the New York City Center, came to the rescue by inviting the company to join the New York City Opera and City Center Orchestra as a constituent of this “people’s” theater, opened only five years before by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia.

The New York City Ballet danced its first performance at City Center in 1948. Times were tough. Although the company now had a home, it was still penniless and needed a repertoire, an audience, dancers with polish, and regular seasons. Kirstein was in his element. He energetically sought out donors; pulled strings to arrange prestigious foreign tours; and found money for costumes, decors, new music, and even to underwrite productions by guest choreographers. In 1952 Kirstein became managing director of City Center and persuaded the Rockefeller Foundation Division of Humanities to appropriate $200,000 “to cover the costs of creative preparatory work on new productions in ballet and opera.” Kirstein’s friendship with Nelson Rockefeller, the future New York governor, dated back to the early 1930s. Amounting to fully half the sum allocated to the New York City Ballet, this was the first grant awarded to an American dance ensemble by a leading philanthropic institution. Nearly a dozen operas and ballets came to the stage thanks to Rockefeller largesse, including The Nutcracker (1954), the most expensive production the young company had ever mounted. Even as the New York City Opera began to chafe at Kirstein’s high-handed ways, he began to dream of a City Center that was virtually a blueprint for what later became Lincoln Center, an institution housing all the performing arts as well as professional training facilities. Indeed within months of his resignation because of policy differences with the New York City Opera, Kirstein joined the committee headed by John D. Rockefeller III “to explore,” as the New York Times reported, “the feasibility of an artistic set-up that would take in ballet, concerts, chamber music, drama, light opera and perhaps educational programs, as well as opera and symphony.”

By 1955 Kirstein had laid his creative ambitions largely to rest. Instead, he turned his attention to strengthening the two institutions to which he dedicated his remaining years—the New York City Ballet and the School of American Ballet (SAB). It was his Herculean efforts and politicking that secured the publicly funded New York State Theater at Lincoln Center for the New York City Ballet, an accomplishment that earned him the enmity of the rest of the dance world. This was compounded by the series of Ford Foundation grants which, beginning in 1959 and continuing well into the 1970s, enabled the School of American Ballet to transform itself from a New York—based institution to a national one that recruited students from around the country. When the SAB relocated in the Juilliard School’s new Lincoln Center studios, displacing Juilliard’s own ballet program, it seemed to many that Kirstein exerted undue influence in high places. However, Kirstein’s dream of creating a national American academy of ballet was finally realized when the SAB acquired its own quarters in the Rose Building along with dormitory facilities.

Even apart from the SAB and the New York City Ballet, Kirstein’s contributions to dance were enormous. His writings form perhaps the most distinguished corpus of any American writer on dance. His Dance: A Short History of Classic Theatrical Dancing, published in 1935, is an extraordinary accomplishment for a twenty-eight-year-old, and it remained in print into the twenty-first century. Movement and Metaphor: Four Centuries of Ballet, published thirty-five years later in 1970, is a brilliant if idiosyncratic analysis of seminal works of dance history, while Nijinsky Dancing (1975) paid homage to the Ballets Russes icon who first excited Kirstein’s interest in the male dancer. In books like Blast at Ballet: A Corrective for the American Audience (1938) and Ballet Alphabet: A Primer for Laymen (1939) he took on the Russians who dominated ballet of the period knowledgeably, fearlessly, and with punch. He was a prolific essayist, publishing not only in journals like Theatre Arts and Modern Music but also in left-wing periodicals such as the Nation and New Theatre, glossy magazines such as Town and Country, and despite his profound dislike of modern dance apart from Martha Graham, even in Dance Observer, its unofficial house organ. His essays of the 1930s, unlike his later ones for the New York Review of Books, were free of the crustiness that by the late 1970s sounded much like the jeremiads of neoconservatives traumatized by the Age of Aquarius.

From his father Kirstein inherited a sense of public service. To the New York Public Library’s Dance Collection he donated thousands of volumes of Russian books, including a complete run of the Annals of the Imperial Theatres (1890–1917); nineteenth-century American dance manuals; rare French and Italian books; and all his diaries and papers. He donated the Ballet Caravan and American Ballet set and costume designs to the Museum of Modern Art and his collection of George Platt Lynes photographs, which commemorated nearly twenty years of work with Balanchine, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He was a founder of Dance Index, a quarterly published between 1942 and 1948 whose monographs, essays on Anna Pavlova, Nijinsky, and Isadora Duncan; on the designers Eugene Berman and Pavel Tchelitchew; on the romantic ballet by George Chaffee; on Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov by the Soviet scholar Yury Slonimsky; and on nineteenth-century American dance by Lillian Moore bear reading. With covers by Joseph Cornell, Dance Index is visually as well as intellectually stimulating.

The visual arts were Kirstein’s second love. Innumerable artists were recipients of his patronage, including Tchelitchew, about whom Kirstein published a book in 1994; Isamu Noguchi; Ben Shahn; Paul Cadmus; and Elie Nadelman. Although he was gay or bisexual, Kirstein married Paul Cadmus’s sister Fidelma in 1941; they had no children. She died in 1991. Kirstein mounted numerous exhibitions, especially in his early years, and in many cases he wrote the accompanying catalogs. He loved photography and wrote presciently about the work of Evans, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and other modernists. In the 1940s he came under the sway of the surrealists, and when they were eclipsed by the overnight triumph of abstract expressionism, he denounced the new movement along with the Museum of Modern Art, which supported it, in a 1948 article written for Harper’s magazine. In his insistence on the figurative, the erstwhile modernist turned his back on contemporary art.

A true man of letters, Kirstein wrote poetry, novels, plays, and volumes of reminiscences. However, he was more of a critic than a creative writer. His poetry, although competent, seldom sings, and his fiction lacks narrative energy and the gift for making characters come alive. Kirstein was not unaware of this. But it made him all the more cognizant of talent in others and all the more willing to support it. Kirstein’s private acts of generosity were often unsung, but few were the artists, writers, or dancers among his acquaintance who did not receive small sums of cash to tide them over. He also extended such generosity to African Americans. The School of American Ballet welcomed its first black students at least as early as the mid-1940s, and by 1950 nearly a dozen were enrolled in the summer course. In 1965 Kirstein marched in Selma, Alabama, in support of civil rights. He died at the age of eighty-eight. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered.

Brilliant, controversial, single-minded, ever loyal, Kirstein did more than anyone else to make ballet an American art. He brought Balanchine to the United States, then struggled to make it possible for him to stay. He fought to build institutions that enabled his company, his work, and his school to survive. He used his wealth wisely and well to promote not only what he loved but also what in his high-toned Brahmin way he felt the country needed. Another patron of Kirstein’s magnitude will be long in coming.

Kirstein’s papers and diaries are in the Dance Collection, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. His major autobiographical works are Thirty Years: Lincoln Kirstein’s the New York City Ballet (1978), Quarry: A Collection in Lieu of Memoirs (1986), and Mosaic: Memoirs (1994). The two major collections of Kirstein’s writings are Ballet: Bias, and Belief: “Three Pamphlets Collected” and Other Dance Writings of Lincoln Kirstein (1983) and By with to & From: A Lincoln Kirstein Reader, edited by Nicholas Jenkins (1991). A detailed chronology of Kirstein’s life is in Harvey Simmonds, Louis H. Silverstein, and Nancy Lassalle, comps., Lincoln Kirstein, The Published Writings, 1922–1977: A First Bibliography (1978), which is an invaluable guide to Kirstein’s writings although it does not contain any publications from the last two decades of his life. No full-scale biography of Kirstein has been written, but Nicholas Fox Weber, Patron Saints: Five Rebels Who Opened America to a New Art, 1928–1943 (1992), gives a good account of Kirstein’s years prior to World War II, while Nancy Reynolds, “Diaghilev and Lincoln Kirstein,” in The Ballets Russes and Its World, edited by Lynn Garafola and Nancy Van Norman Baer (1999), surveys his whole life and compares it to Diaghilev’s. An obituary is in the New York Times (6 Jan. 1996).

Lynn Garafola

Lincoln Kirstein

views updated Jun 11 2018

Lincoln Kirstein

Most noted for his hand in founding the New York City Ballet and for almost half a century its director, Lincoln Kirstein (1907-1996) was a visionary, a great scholar, and a distinguished critic and writer on dance and various other art forms.

Lincoln Kirstein was born to a wealthy family in Rochester, New York, on May 4, 1907. His father, Louis Kirstein, was a high-ranking executive, and eventually chairman, of Filene's Department Store. Kirstein's interest in the arts was present from a young age. When he was eight years old he created a dramatics club called "Tea for Three." He produced, wrote, and starred in all their plays and demonstrated in his organization of the club his skills as a systematic organizer. When he was 12 his mother took him and his sister to Chartres, France, where the great cathedral spurred in him a passion for windows—this later resulted in his taking a year between high school and college to work in a stained glass factory. When Kirstein was 15 he published a play in the Philips Exeter Monthly, and when he was 16 he bought his first work of art, an Ashanti figure of tulipwood that had been carved at the Wembley Empire Exhibition. That same year he spent the summer with his older sister in London and attended performances of Diaghilev's Ballet Russe.

Launched Modern Art Society

Having grown up in a grand house full of antiques and artwork from all stages of history, the contrast and excitement of the modern art scene was attractive to Kirstein. He attended Harvard University in the late 1920s and there began to make his mark in the art world. At the time art museums were wary of showing modern art (or the work of living artists) because they feared that it might not be of a good enough standard and subsequently the museum would be embarrassed. Kirstein, along with two fellow undergraduates at Harvard, Edward M.M. Warburg and John Walker III, felt this risk of embarrassment to be enticing. Together they founded the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art to do what other museums and galleries feared— "to exhibit to the public works of living contemporary art whose qualities are still frankly debatable." This society was the first organization in the United States that presented the vast range and diversity of contemporary art on a continual basis. What made it unique was that its intent was not to cater to one individual's taste or to the development of a personal collection, but rather to focus on presenting all strains of modernism. They wanted the new voices in the art world to have a place where they could be heard. The first exhibit, which ran from February 19 to March 15, 1929, included works by such varying artists as Thomas Hart Benton, Rockwell Kent, Edward Hopper, George Bellows, and Georgia O'Keefe, among many others.

Of the three founders of the Harvard Society, Kirstein was the one who was skilled in formulating ideas. The society was his idea, as were most of the exhibition themes and their rationales. Both imaginative and articulate, Kirstein was described by one friend as "impetuous … knowledgeable … overflowing with vitality …" and by another as "brilliant, seductive, violent … but isolated and lonely at the same time." In college he was intrigued by any art that reflected vitality, passion, and competence, and when he found something he cared about, his care was intense and vehement. He had sensitivity and awareness at the same time as boundless knowledge and energy and cared more about books, painting, and dance than about sports and socializing. His outlook was unique yet always direct and honest. This outlook was reflected in the society, for what was important was the idea of getting to the core. "To attain knowledge and beauty one must peel away the covering. The ideal was to know one's true instincts and to have the courage to be spontaneous."

Focus Shifted to Literary Magazine

While still at Harvard, in addition to the society, Kirstein and some associates began an undergraduate literary magazine called The Hound and the Horn. "Exemplary of everything that Kirstein would be involved in from that point on, it did not flaunt his name—which appeared only in small type in the list of editors." The periodical, however, had been his idea and had been largely overseen by him. The magazine included works by such now illustrious writers as James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot, Conrad Aiken, and e.e. cummings, among others.

In November 1929, nine months after the Harvard Society's first show, the Museum of Modern Art opened in New York City. Many art critics of the time voiced the opinion that the Harvard Society had been the "germ of the Museum of Modern Art." In April 1930 the museum's trustees invited Kirstein, Warburg, and Walker to join the newly formed advisory committee. Soon after, the three young men graduated from Harvard, but only Kirstein stayed in Cambridge, where he continued to devote his energies to The Hound and the Horn and to the Harvard Society. In December 1930 and January 1931 the first Bauhaus show ever in America was installed at the Harvard Society under the guidance of Kirstein, who both wrote and designed the cover for the catalogue (although he did not cite his name as author or designer). Many exhibits later Kirstein's focus began to shift. He handed over the Harvard Society to new leaders and moved on to new endeavors.

Began American Dance Company

While visiting in Europe, he met George Balanchine and decided that America needed a ballet company all its own. He felt Balanchine to be the right person for the job of artistic director/choreographer/ballet master. In previous trips to Europe Kirstein had seen Balanchine dance and had also seen his choreography. He had been deeply inspired by the vitality and modernity of the work. With the death of Diaghilev, the Ballet Russe had largely fallen apart, and Kirstein saw this as a perfect opportunity to start a ballet company in America with Balanchine, who was also keen on the idea. With the financial support of his friends Chick Austin and Warburg, the plan was set in motion.

On December 1, 1933, the School of American Ballet opened. Among its aims was one to "preserve and further the tradition of classical theatrical dancing in order to provide adequate material for the growth of a new national art in America." In December 1934 the American Ballet Company, which was made up of the school's first-year students, made their debut performance at Warburg's estate in White Plains, New York, and shortly afterwards at the Avery Memorial Theater in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1935 the American Ballet became a resident ballet company in New York City. In the spring of 1936 Kirstein founded another company, called Ballet Caravan, which also emerged from the School of American Ballet. It was developed as an outlet for American choreographers, composers, and designers. It toured extensively from 1936 to 1939 until World War II ended it. When the war was over, in 1946, Kirstein, along with Balanchine, formed the "Ballet Society." As well as giving ballet performances, it sponsored lectures, film shows, and publications on dance and in 1948 took under its auspices the publication Dance Index (which Kirstein had been the editor of since 1942). From the "Ballet Society" was developed the New York City Ballet, in 1948, of which Kirstein was the general director from its inception.

In developing the company, Kirstein's primary aim was to not only create an American classic ballet, but also to stage American subjects. The first truly American ballet was Billy the Kid, which was choreographed by Eugene Loring, but the "story" was written by Kirstein himself. Other notable works included Lew Christensen's Filling Station.

Despite all the innovative activities of Kirstein in college, it was the creation of this truly American ballet company, as well as his numerous books and critiques of dance concerts, that made Lincoln Kirstein a legend in his own time. He was a patron of the arts in the truest sense, as he asked for no credit or monetary reward for all that he did— his foremost concern remained presenting innovative and passionate art to the world. Still he received many accolades. Among his many lifetime honors were the United States government Medal of Freedom, New York City's Handel Medallion and the National Medal of Arts. Dance Magazine senior editor Clive Barnes wrote that Kirstein "dreamed dreams for other people and made them happen."

Kirstein was married to Fidelma Cadmus. She died in 1991. Kirstein retired as general director of the New York City Ballet in 1989 but retained the title of general director emeritus. He died on January 5, 1996 at his home in New York City of natural causes. His impact was felt after his death. As one colleague remarked: "If Lincoln hadn't had the vision that ballet could become an important art form in this country, none of us would be here."

Further Reading

Important publications by Kirstein include: Dance (1935), Blast a Ballet, a Corrective for the American Audience (1938), Ballet Alphabet (1939), The Classic Ballet, Basic Technique and Terminology with M. Stuart (1952), Movement and Metaphor (1970), The New York City Ballet (1974), and Nijinsky Dancing (1975), Ballet:Bias and Belief (1983).

For an in-depth and fascinating look at all the ideas and contributions of Kirstein throughout his life (both in ballet and the other arts) see Nicholas Fox Weber, Patron Saints (1992). This book is the source of the quotations used in the text. Lincoln Kirstein's account of his own life up to 1933 is recorded in Mosaic (1994). For short summaries of his life and contributions to ballet specifically see: Horst Koegler, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Ballet (2nd ed. 1982) and Francis Gadan and Robert Maillard, A Dictionary of Modern Ballet (1959). Also, Clive Barnes, "Lincoln In His Own Center" Dance Magazine (March 1996) For bits of information on Lincoln Kirstein and his influence on dance interspersed throughout more comprehensive books on the history of dance see: Mary Clarke and Clement Crisp, Introducing Ballet (1977); Irving Deakin, At the Ballet: A Guide to Enjoyment (1956); A.H. Franks, Twentieth Century Ballet (1971); Ivor Guest, The Dancer's Heritage: A Short History of Ballet (1988); Robert Harrold, Ballet (1980) (2nd ed., 1982); Arnold Haskell, Balletomania: Then and Now (1977); and Olga Maynard, The American Ballet (1959). □

Kirstein, Lincoln

views updated Jun 08 2018


KIRSTEIN, Lincoln (b. 4 May 1907; d. 5 January 1996), writer, impresario, art patron.

Lincoln Kirstein was a writer, patron, and important impresario of the visual and performing arts in the United States in the middle decades of the twentieth century. Family money allowed him to avoid a life of paid work and concentrate on promoting and organizing the creative work of others. He was closely associated with a number of artistic, literary, and intellectual figures of the 1930s and 1940s, especially the largely homosexual circle gathered around the Magic Realist artists. His most important legacy is undoubtedly the School of American Ballet and the New York City Ballet, whose continuing presence realizes Kirstein's desire for a permanent, internationally respected American national ballet. In 1941 he married Fidelma Cadmus (sister of Paul Cadmus), but had frequent and open affairs with men throughout his life.

Kirstein, a prolific author, wrote more than thirty books and hundreds of articles on a wide array of topics including poetry and fiction, modern art, film and photography, and the history and technique of dance. Of special relevance here are his books on the Magic Realist artists Paul Cadmus and Pavel Tchelitchev and the Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinksy—all homosexual or known to have had homosexual affairs. As a Harvard University undergraduate he cofounded the literary journal Hound and Horn for which he reviewed dance and theater. He also cofounded the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art, which organized well-received exhibitions of modern European and American art in Boston.

Kirstein was exposed to the famous Ballets Russes, with its avant-garde productions directed by Sergei Diaghilev, during an early trip to Europe, but became truly enamored of dance while living in Paris in the early 1930s. There he attended performances of Les Ballets 1933 directed by George Balanchine. When the company collapsed, Kirstein secured an invitation from the directors of Hartford, Connecticut's, Wadsworth Athenaeum for Balanchine and company to come to America and found a ballet school and company. Upon his arrival Balanchine concluded Hartford could never support a permanent company and Kirstein quickly secured funding from friends and family to establish the School of American Ballet in New York in 1934 with Balanchine as artistic director.

Lacking a permanent performance space and secure funding base, Kirstein organized dancers from the school into the American Ballet, which performed at the Metropolitan Opera. In summers it toured as the Ballet Caravan, presenting modern ballets on American themes. In 1936 Kirstein's friendship with Walker Evans led to his appointment as the head of the Works Progress Administration Federal Dance Theater Project. He served as a private in the army during World War II and afterward was attached to the government's division of Monuments, Fine Art, and Archives, working in Europe to recover art looted by the Nazis. In 1946 he and Balanchine organized the subscription-based Ballet Society, which reassembled many dancers from his prewar companies. Its 1948 breakthrough performance of Orpheus (commissioned by Kirstein from Igor Stravinsky with sets designed by sculptor Isamu Noguchi) at the New York City Center for Music and Drama led to the establishment of a permanent ballet company, the now-legendary New York City Ballet. In the mid-1950s Kirstein was instrumental in launching the annual American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut, which he hoped would be the beginning of a national theater.

Kirstein had a particular genius for interweaving his friend's creative talents through his numerous projects. Tchelitchev designed ballet sets, while George Platt Lynes was the semiofficial photographer of Kirstein's ballet school and companies. Paul Cadmus designed sets for the American Ballet Caravan work Filling Station and provided drawings for Kirstein's book Ballet Alphabet. A number of Cadmus's paintings from the 1940s are set in the School of American Ballet and feature its premier dancers. Kirstein's friendship with Nelson Rockefeller and Gaston Lachaise led to the inclusion of the sculptor's work at Rockefeller Center, and Rockefeller underwrote Ballet Caravan's 1941 tour of Latin America. Kirstein later toured the southern continent, purchasing art for the Museum of Modern Art of which Rockefeller was a trustee. Kirstein was also instrumental in securing Museum of Modern Art exhibitions of Elie Nadelman's sculptures and Walker Evans's photographs. He was a frequent subject in the work of his friends and commissioning his portrait was a favorite form of patronage.

In recognition of his contributions to the arts, Kirstein was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984 and the National Medal of Arts in 1985.


Jenkins, Nicholas. "Reflections: The Great Impresario." The New Yorker 74, no. 8 (13 April 1998): 48–61.

Leddick, David. Intimate Companions: A Triography of George Platt Lynes, Paul Cadmus, Lincoln Kirstein, and Their Circle. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.

Kirstein, Lincoln. Mosaic: Memoirs. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1994.

Simmonds, Harvey. Lincoln Kirstein, the Published Writings, 1922–1977: A First Bibliography. New Haven: Yale University Library, 1978.

Weber, Nicholas Fox. Patron Saints: Five Rebels Who Opened America to a New Art, 1928–1943. New York: Knopf, 1992.

Michael J. Murphy

see alsodance; ford, charles henri.

Kirstein, Lincoln

views updated May 23 2018


KIRSTEIN, LINCOLN (1907–1996), U.S. impresario, arts patron, and dance historian. Born in Rochester, New York, he became interested in dance while at Harvard and soon emerged as one of the creative personalities in modern American ballet. He persuaded Russian-born choreographer George Balanchine, whom he met in London in 1933, to go to the United States, where the great master's artistic vision would evolve in freedom for almost 50 years. In 1934, with Balanchine and Edward Warburg, Kirstein cofounded the American Ballet, which acted as the official ballet of the Metropolitan Opera from 1935 to 1938. In 1936 Kirstein founded Ballet Caravan to present American works. Among its productions was Eugene Loring's Billy the Kid, for which Kirstein wrote the libretto. Ballet Caravan and the American Ballet merged and disbanded in 1941. Kirstein, after serving with the U.S. Army during World War ii, formed a new company, Ballet Society. In 1948 this group, with Kirstein as general director and Balanchine as artistic director, was invited to become the resident company of the New York City Center of Music and Drama, and changed its name to the New York City Ballet. Kirstein was also the sponsor of Japanese theater in the U.S., including Gagaku (dancers and musicians) and Kabuki (classic dramatic theatre). Kirstein did considerable research and was a leading dance historian. He founded and edited the scholarly periodical Dance Index (1942–48) and published books on Fokine (New York, 1935); Nijinsky (New York, 1974); and the New York City Ballet (New York, 1973). Among his awards are the Order of the Sacred Treasure (Japanese government, 1960); the Benjamin Franklin Medal of the Royal Society of the Arts (1981), and the National Medal of Arts (1985).


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Lincoln Kirstein