Culture and Recreation
Who was Balanchine?
The name of the Russian-born choreographer is synonymous with modern American ballet: George Balanchine (1904–1983) was one of the most influential choreographers of the twentieth century, creating more than 200 ballets in his lifetime and choreographing 19 Broadway musicals as well as four Hollywood films. He co-founded three of the country’s foremost dance institutions: the School of American Ballet (in 1934); the American Ballet Company (1935); and the New York City Ballet (1948), the first American ballet company to become a public institution.
His entrance into the world of dance was entirely accidental: In August 1914 Balanchine accompanied his sister to an audition at the Imperial School of Ballet and was invited to audition as well. Though his sister failed, he passed and, against his own wishes, was promptly enrolled. However, Balanchine remained uninterested in the art form, even running away from school shortly after starting. The turning point for the young dancer came with a performance of Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Sleeping Beauty(1890). He was dazzled by the experience and chose to stay with the school’s rigorous training program.
Serenade (1935; music by Tchaikovsky) is considered by many to be Balanchine’s signature work. His other well-known works include Apollo (1928), The Prodigal Son (1929), The Nutcracker (1954), and Don Quixote (1965), as well as Jewels, the first full-length ballet without a plot.
Remembering the opportunity he had been given as a child, Balanchine was known for choreographing children’s roles into many of his ballets. His outreach did not end there: He organized lecture-demonstration tours for schools, gave free ballet performances for underprivileged children, conducted free annual seminars for dance teachers, and gave free advice and use of his ballets to other ballet companies. Balanchine’s unparalleled body of work was instrumental in establishing the vibrant style and content of contemporary ballet in America, where he brought ballet to the forefront of the performing arts.