George Balanchine

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George Balanchine
Portrait of Ringling Circus choreographer George Balanchine.jpg
Born Georgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze
(1904-01-22)January 22, 1904
St. Petersburg, Russian Empire
Died April 30, 1983(1983-04-30) (aged 79)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Cause of death
Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease
Occupation dancer, choreographer, actor, director
Years active 1929–1983
Spouse(s) Tamara Geva (1921–1926; divorced)
Vera Zorina (1938–1946; divorced)
Maria Tallchief (1946–1952; annulled)
Tanaquil LeClercq (1952–1969; divorced)
Awards Presidential Medal of Freedom

George Balanchine (born Giorgi Balanchivadze, Georgian: გიორგი ბალანჩივაძე, Russian: Гео́ргий Баланчива́дзе) (January 22 [O.S. January 9] 1904 – April 30, 1983) was one of the 20th century's most prolific choreographers. Styled as the father of American ballet, he took the standards and technique from his education at the Imperial Ballet School and fused it with other schools of movement that he had adopted during his tenure as a guest choreographer on Broadway and in Hollywood, creating his signature "neoclassical style".[1][2] He was invited to America in 1933, by a young arts patron named Lincoln Kirstein who shared Balanchine's attitude regarding the importance of high quality dance training in America and together they founded the School of American Ballet, that has since grown into one of the foremost dance academies in the United States and the world, respectively. Along with Kirstein and Jerome Robbins, he co-founded the New York City Ballet (NYCB) and remained its balletmaster for more than 35 years, alongside Mr. Robbins as co-founding choreographer.[3] He was a choreographer known for his musicality; he expressed music with dance and worked extensively with leading composers of his time like Igor Stravinsky.[4]

Biography[edit]

Georgia and Russia[edit]

Balanchine's father Meliton

Balanchine was born Giorgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze in Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire, in the family of noted Georgian opera singer and composer Meliton Balanchivadze, who was one of the founders of the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre and later served as the culture minister of Georgia, which became independent in 1918, but was later subsumed into the Soviet Union.[5] The rest of Balanchine's Georgian side of the family comprised largely artists and soldiers. Little is known of Balanchine's Russian, maternal side. His mother, Meliton's second wife, Maria Nikolayevna Vasilyeva, was fond of ballet and viewed it as a form of social advancement from her lower reaches of the St. Petersburg society.[6] She was eleven years younger than Meliton and rumored to have been his former housekeeper, although "she had at least some culture in her background" as she could play piano well.[6]

As a child, Balanchine was not particularly interested in ballet, but his mother insisted that young Giorgi audition with his sister Tamara, who shared her mother's interest in the art. George's brother Andria Balanchivadze instead followed his father's love for music and became a well-known composer in what became then Soviet Georgia. Tamara's career, on the other hand, was cut short by her death in unknown circumstances as she was trying to escape on a train from besieged Leningrad to Georgia.[6]

Based on his audition, during 1913 (at age nine) Balanchine relocated from rural Finland to Saint Petersburg and was accepted into the Imperial Ballet School, principal school of the Imperial Ballet, where he was a student of Pavel Gerdt and Samuil Andrianov (Pavel's son-in-law).[7] After the Bolsheviks won the Russian Revolution of 1917, they closed and disbanded the school as an elitist symbol of the Czarist regime. To survive the privation and martial law of this period, Balanchine played the piano – for food, not for money – at cabarets and silent movie theaters. Eventually the Imperial Ballet School reopened, albeit with greatly reduced funding from the government.[citation needed]

After graduating in 1921, Balanchine enrolled in the Petrograd Conservatory while working in the corps de ballet at the State Academic Theater for Opera and Ballet (formerly the State Theater of Opera and Ballet and known as the Mariinsky Ballet). His studies at the conservatory included advanced piano, music theory, counterpoint, harmony, and composition. Balanchine graduated from the conservatory during 1923, and danced as a member of the corps until 1924. While still in his teens, Balanchine choreographed his first work, a pas de deux named La Nuit (1920, music by Anton Rubinstein). This was followed by another duet, Enigma, with the dancers in bare feet rather than ballet shoes. During 1923, with fellow dancers, Balanchine formed a small ensemble, the Young Ballet. The choreography proved too experimental for the new authorities.[citation needed]

Marriages[edit]

In 1923, Balanchine married Tamara Geva, a sixteen-year-old dancer. After his divorce from Tamara Geva, Balanchine was partnered with Alexandra Danilova from 1926 through 1933. He married and divorced three more times, all to women who were his dancers: Vera Zorina (1938–1946), Maria Tallchief (1946–1952), and Tanaquil LeClercq (1952–1969). He had no children by any of his marriages and no known offspring from any extramarital unions or other liaisons.

Ballets Russes[edit]

Main article: Ballets Russes

On a 1924 visit to Germany with the Soviet State Dancers, Balanchine, his wife, Tamara Geva, and dancers Alexandra Danilova and Nicholas Efimov fled to Paris, where there was a large Russian community. At this time, the impresario Sergei Diaghilev invited Balanchine to join the Ballets Russes as a choreographer.[7]

Diaghilev soon promoted Balanchine to ballet master of the company and encouraged his choreography. Between 1924 and Diaghilev's death in 1929, Balanchine created nine ballets, as well as lesser works. During these years, he worked with composers such as Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky, Claude Debussy, Erik Satie, and Maurice Ravel, and artists who designed sets and costumes, such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Rouault, and Henri Matisse, creating new works that combined all the arts. Among his new works, during 1928 in Paris, Balanchine premiered Apollon musagète (Apollo and the muses) in a collaboration with Stravinsky; it was one of his most innovative ballets, combining classical ballet and classical Greek myth and images with jazz movement. He described it as "the turning point in my life".[8]

Apollo 1928

Suffering a serious knee injury, Balanchine had to limit his dancing, effectively ending his performance career. After Diaghilev's death, the Ballets Russes went bankrupt. To earn money, Balanchine began to stage dances for Charles B. Cochran's revues and Sir Oswald Stoll's variety shows in London. He was retained by the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen as a guest ballet master.

When part of the Ballets Russes settled in Monte Carlo, Balanchine joined them and accepted a job as ballet master; directed by René Blum, the company was then named the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. He choreographed three ballets: Cotillon, La Concurrence, and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. His protégée in Monte Carlo was the young Tamara Toumanova, one of the original three "baby ballerinas" that the director had selected from the Russian exile community of Paris.[citation needed]

When Blum gave control of the company to Colonel W. de Basil, Balanchine left the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo to act as principal choreographer for the newly founded Les Ballets 1933. The company was financed by Edward James, a British ballet patron. Boris Kochno, Diaghilev's former secretary and companion, served as artistic advisor. The company lasted only a couple of months during 1933, performing only in Paris and London, when the Great Depression made arts more difficult to fund. He created several new works, including collaborations with composers Kurt Weill, Darius Milhaud, Henri Sauguet and designer Pavel Tchelitchew.

United States[edit]

Architect Philip Johnson designed the New York State Theater to Balanchine's specifications.

Balanchine insisted that his first project would be to establish a ballet school because he wanted to develop dancers who had the strong technique and style he wanted. Compared to his classical training, he thought they could not dance well. With the assistance of Lincoln Kirstein and Edward M.M. Warburg, the School of American Ballet opened to students on January 2, 1934, less than 3 months after Balanchine arrived in the U.S. Later that year, Balanchine had his students perform in a recital, where they premiered his new work Serenade to music by Tchaikovsky at the Warburg summer estate. The work, modified by Balanchine over the years, remains a signature work of New York City Ballet decades after its premiere.[citation needed]

Between his ballet activities in the 1930s and 1940s, Balanchine choreographed for musical theater with such notables as Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart and Vernon Duke.[9] In 1935, he formed a professional company named the American Ballet. After failing to organize a tour, the company began performing as the house company for the Metropolitan Opera. The next year he staged Gluck's opera Orfeo and Eurydice and during 1937 an evening of dance works all choreographed to the music of Igor Stravinsky.[citation needed]

Relocation to West Coast[edit]

Balanchine relocated his company to Hollywood during 1938, where he rented a white two-story house with "Kolya", Nicholas Kopeikine, his "rehearsal pianist and lifelong colleague",[10] on North Fairfax Avenue not far from Hollywood Boulevard. Balanchine created dances for five movies, all of which featured Vera Zorina, whom he met on the set of The Goldwyn Follies and who subsequently became his third wife. He reconvened the company as the American Ballet Caravan and toured with it throughout North and South America, but it folded after several years. From 1944 to 1946, during and after World War II, Balanchine served as resident choreographer for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

Return to New York[edit]

Soon Balanchine formed a new dance company, Ballet Society, again with the generous help of Lincoln Kirstein. He continued to work with contemporary composers, such as Paul Hindemith, from whom he commissioned a score in 1940 for The Four Temperaments. First performed on November 20, 1946, this modernist work was one of his early abstract and spare ballets, angular and very different in movement. After several successful performances, the most notable featuring the ballet Orpheus created in collaboration with Stravinsky and sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi, the City of New York offered the company residency at the New York City Center. With that arrangement, Ballet Society officially became New York City Ballet in 1948.[citation needed]

In 1955, Balanchine created his version of The Nutcracker, in which he played the mime role of Drosselmeyer. The company has since performed the ballet every year in New York City during the Christmas season.

Balanchine with Suzanne Farrell in Don Quixote.

When Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts was constructed, NYCB was offered the New York State Theater (renamed the David H. Koch Theater in 2008 when the billionaire made a donation of one hundred million dollars for major renovations). Balanchine collaborated with architect Philip Johnson on its design and finally had a theater large enough for the works he wanted to stage when the house opened in 1964. He often created large-scale works there, from American themes and Broadway, such as Stars and Stripes for the premiere performance, to drawing from European traditions and music, such as his 1977 Vienna Waltzes, a lavishly designed one-hour ballet choreographed to music by Johann Strauss II, Franz Lehár, and Richard Strauss.[citation needed]

Mstislav Rostropovich (left), George Balanchine (middle) and Yuri Grigorovich

During the 1960s, Balanchine created and revised nearly forty ballets including in 1965 a rare foray into the genre of evening-length story ballets, Don Quixote in which he played the title role. His created the lead female role for Suzanne Farrell, the young ballerina for whom he would create many roles until the end of his career. Some ballerinas quit the company, among them his former wife Maria Tallchief, who cited his obsession with Farrell as the reason. Balanchine obtained a Mexican divorce from then-wife Tanaquil LeClercq around this time.[citation needed]

Biographer and intellectual historian James Clive observed that Balanchine, despite his creative genius and brilliance as a ballet choreographer, had his darker side. In his Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts (2007), Clive writes that

"George Balanchine, pitiably, was less civilized. The great choreographer ruled the New York City Ballet as a fiefdom, with the 'droit du seigneur' among his privileges. The older he became, the more consuming his love affairs with his young ballerinas ... When [ballerina Suzanne Farrell] fell in love with and married a young dancer, Balanchine dismissed her from the company, thereby injuring her career for a crucial decade."

In the summer of 1972, a year after Stravinsky's death, Balanchine staged another Stravinsky Festival, for which he choreographed several major new works including the "miracle" ballets Stravinsky Violin Concerto and Symphony in Three Movements, both premiering on June 18, 1972.[citation needed]

Death[edit]

After years of illness, Balanchine died on April 30, 1983, aged 79, in Manhattan from Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, which was diagnosed only after his death. He first showed symptoms during 1978 when he began losing his balance while dancing. As the disease progressed, his equilibrium, eyesight, and hearing deteriorated. By 1982, he was incapacitated. The night of his death, the company went on with its scheduled performance, which included Divertimento No. 15 and Symphony in C at Lincoln Center.[11] In his last years, Balanchine suffered from angina and underwent heart bypass surgery.[12]

He had a Russian Orthodox funeral, and was interred at the Oakland Cemetery at Sag Harbor, Suffolk County, New York at the same cemetery where Alexandra Danilova was later interred.

Legacy and honors[edit]

Selected Choreographed Works[edit]

For Ballets Russes de Serge Diaghilev[edit]

  • Le Chant du Rossignol (The Song of the Nightingale) (1925)
  • Jack in the Box (1926)
  • Pastorale (1926)
  • Barabau (1926)
  • La Chatte (1927)
  • Le Triomphe de Neptune (1927)
  • Apollo (1928)
  • The Prodigal Son (1929)
  • Le Bal (1929)

For Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo[edit]

  • Cotillon (1932)
  • Concurrence (1932)
  • Balustrade (1941)
  • Danses Concertantes (1944 and 1972)
  • La Sonnambula (1946)

For Les Ballets 1933[edit]

  • The Seven Deadly Sins (1933)
  • Errante (1933)
  • Les Songes (1933)
  • Fastes (1933)

For the American Ballet[edit]

  • Alma Mater (1934)
  • Les Songes (Dreams) (1934)
  • Mozartiana (1934)
  • Serenade (1935)
  • Errante (1935)
  • Reminiscence (1935)
  • Jeu de cartes (variously, Card Game or The Card Party) (1937)
  • Le Baiser de la Fée (originally titled The Fairy's Kiss) (1937)

For Broadway[edit]

  • Ziegfeld Follies of 1936
    • Words without Music: A Surrealist Ballet, a production number for the singing and dancing ensemble
    • Night Flight, a solo for Harriet Hoctor
    • 5 A.M., a number for Josephine Baker and male dancers
  • On Your Toes (1936), music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart; starring Tamara Geva and Ray Bolger
This dramatic ballet served as the climax of this musical production and has subsequently been presented as a stand-alone piece; however, several of the sung numbers in the show featured dance routines as well, notably the title number.
  • Babes in Arms (1937), by Rodgers and Hart
  • I Married an Angel (1938), by Rodgers and Hart; starring Vera Zorina
  • The Boys from Syracuse (1938), by Rodgers and Hart
  • Great Lady (1938), music by Frederick Loewe
  • Keep Off the Grass (1940), a musical revue
  • Lousiana [sic?] Purchase (1940), music and lyrics by Irving Berlin; with William Gaxton and Vera Zorina
  • Cabin in the Sky (1940), music by Vernon Duke, lyrics by John Latouche; starring Ethel Waters and Katherine Dunham, who collaborated with Balanchine on the choreography
  • The Lady Comes Across (1942), by Duke and Latouche; a notable flop
  • Rosalinda (1942), an operetta with music by Johann Strauss
  • The Merry Widow (1943), an operetta with music by Franz Lehár
  • What's Up? (1943), lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, music by Frederick Loewe
  • Dream with Music (1944), a musical fantasy starring Vera Zorina
  • Song of Norway (1944), an operetta based on the life and music of Edvard Grieg; Balanchine's most successful Broadway show
  • Mr. Strauss Goes to Boston (1945), another flop
  • The Chocolate Soldier (1947), an operetta with music by Oscar Straus
  • Where's Charley? lyrics and music by Frank Loesser, a long-running show starring Ray Bolger
  • Courtin' Time (1951), music and lyrics by Don Walker and Jack Lawrence
  • House of Flowers (1954), music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Truman Capote and Harold Arlen; starring Pearl Bailey, Diahann Carroll, and Juanita Hall; Balanchine's choreography was rearranged by Herbert Ross before the Broadway opening

For Hollywood[edit]

  • The Goldwyn Follies (1938), with Vera Zorina and William Dollar as principal dancers
    • "Romeo and Juliet," with ballet dancers as the Capulets and tap dancers as the Montagues
    • "Water Nymph Ballet," in which Zorina rose from the depths of a pool
  • On Your Toes (1939), the film version of the Broadway show, starring Vera Zorina and Eddie Albert
  • I Was an Adventuress (1940), starring Vera Zorina
  • Star Spangled Rhythm (1942), a wartime morale booster for military troops
    • "That Old Black Magic," sung by Johnny Johnston, danced by Vera Zorina
  • Follow the Boys (1944), with Vera Zorina and George Raft

For American Ballet Caravan[edit]

  • Ballet Imperial (later referred to as the Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2) (1941)
  • Concerto Barocco (1941)

For the Ballet del Teatro de Colón[edit]

  • Mozart Violin Concerto (1942)

For Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo[edit]

  • Song of Norway (1944)
  • Danses Concertantes (1944)
  • Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1944)
  • Pas de Deux (Grand adagio) (1945)
  • The Night Shadow (1946)
  • Raymonda (1946)

For Ballet Theatre[edit]

For Ballet Society[edit]

  • The Four Temperaments (1946)
  • L'enfant et Les Sortilèges (The Spellbound Child) (1946)[17]
  • Haieff Divertimento (1947)
  • Symphonie Concertante (1947)
  • Orpheus (1948)

For the Paris Opera Ballet[edit]

For Le Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas[edit]

  • Pas de Trois Classique (also known as Minkus Pas de Trois) (1948)

For New York City Ballet[edit]

For New York City Opera[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Life Magazine. Volume 7. New York, NY: Time, Incorporated, 1984, p 139.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Joseph Horowitz (2008). Artists in Exile: How Refugees from 20th-century War and Revolution Transformed the American Performing Arts. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-074846-X
  4. ^ "Balanchine", American Masters, PBS, available on DVD.
  5. ^ New York Times article by Anna Kisselgoff, June 29, 2004
  6. ^ a b c Kendall, Elizabeth. Balanchine & the Lost Muse: Revolution & the Making of a Choreographer. Oxford University Press: 2013, pp. 23, 34, 37-40.
  7. ^ a b Joseph Horowitz (2008). Artists in Exile: How Refugees from Twentieth-Century War and Revolution Transformed the American Performing Arts, New York: HarperCollins; ISBN 0-06-074846-X
  8. ^ Fisher (2006), p. 27
  9. ^ For full details of Balanchine's work in musical theater in London, Paris, New York, and Hollywood, see the summary report of Popular Balanchine, a research project of the George Balanchine Foundation, at http://balanchine.org/balanchine/03/popularbalanchine.html
  10. ^ Barbara Milberg Fisher, In Balanchine's Company: A Dancer's Memoir, Wesleyan University Press, 2006, p. 30, accessed 24 January 2011
  11. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica; retrieved May 27, 2008.[dead link]
  12. ^ Man and Microbes, pp. 195-96.
  13. ^ "Reply to a parliamentary question" (pdf) (in German). p. 588. Retrieved March 9, 2013. 
  14. ^ "Theater Hall of Fame Adds Nine New Names". New York Times. November 22, 1988. 
  15. ^ "Theater Hall of Fame members". 
  16. ^ New York Times, June 30, 2003
  17. ^ Balanchine had created ballet sequences for Ravel's opera L'enfant et les sortilèges with singers of the Monte Carlo Opera and dancers from the Ballets Russes for the 1925 Monte Carlo premiere; this is not however listed as a Ballets Russes production.

Further reading[edit]

  • Taper, Bernard (1996). George Balanchine: A Biography. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-20639-8. 
  • Schorer, Suki (1999). On Balanchine Technique. Knopf. ISBN 0-679-45060-2. 
  • Joseph, Charles M. (2002). Stravinsky and Balanchine, A Journey of Invention. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-08712-8. 
  • Gottlieb, Robert (2004). George Balanchine: The Ballet Maker. Harper Collins. ISBN 0-06-075070-7. 
  • Goldner, Nancy (2008). Balanchine Variations. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. 
  • Goldner, Nancy (2011). More Balanchine Variations. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. 

External links[edit]

Articles