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George Balanchine (January 22, 1904 – April 30, 1983), born Giorgi Melitonis dze Balanchivadze ( ) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, to Georgian parents, was one of the 20th century's foremost choreographers, a pioneer of ballet in the United States, co-founder and balletmaster of New York City Ballet: his work created modern ballet, based on his deep knowledge of classical forms and techniques. He was a choreographer known for his musicality; he did not illustrate music but expressed it in dance and worked extensively with Igor Stravinsky, his contemporary.

Georgia and Russia

Balanchine's father, noted Georgian composer Meliton Balanchivadze (1862–1937), was one of the founders of the Georgian Opera. George's brother, Andria Balanchivadze (1906–1992), became a well-known Georgian composer. As a child, Balanchine was not particularly interested in ballet. However, his mother possessed a deep love for the art and had the young Giorgi audition with his sister, who shared her mother's passion for ballet. Since his family was mostly comprised of composers and soldiers, it was said that Balanchine could always follow family tradition and enroll in the military if it turned out he wasn't talented at dancing.

In 1913 (at age nine) Balanchine moved from rural Finland to Saint Petersburg and was enrolled in the Imperial Ballet School, principal school of the Imperial Ballet, where he studied under Pavel Gerdt and Samuil Andrianov (Pavel's son-in-law). With the victory of the Bolsheviks in the revolution, the school was disbanded as an offensive symbol of the Tsarist 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 theatres. Eventually the Imperial Ballet School reopened with greatly reduced funding. After graduating with honours in 1921, Balanchine enrolled in the Petrograd Conservatorymarker in tandem with his corps de ballet duties at The State Academic Theatre for Opera and Ballet (formerly the State Theater of Opera and Ballet). In 1922 when Balanchine was eighteen, he married Tamara Geva, a fifteen year old dancer. His studies at the conservatory included advanced piano, music theory, counterpoint, harmony, and composition. Balanchine graduated from the conservatory in 1923, and he was a member of the corps until 1924.

While still in his teens, Balanchine choreographed his first work, a pas de deux called La Nuit (1920, music by Anton Rubinstein). This was followed by another duet, Enigma, danced in bare feet. In 1923, with fellow dancers, he formed a small ensemble, the Young Ballet. The choreography proved too experimental for the new authorities, who strongly encouraged the group to disband. On a trip to Weimar Republicmarker with the Soviet State Dancers, Balanchine, Tamara Geva, Alexandra Danilova, and Nicholas Efimov defected to the west and fled to Parismarker in 1924. Serge Diaghilev, another Russian exile, asked Balanchine to join his Ballets Russes as a choreographer.

Ballets Russes

Diaghilev soon promoted Balanchine to balletmaster of the company and allowed him to develop his own choreography. Between 1924 and Diaghilev's death in 1929, Balanchine created nine ballets, as well as smaller choreographies. Unfortunately, he also suffered a serious knee injury at this time, which limited his dancing and effectively ended his performance career. In 1926 Balanchine and Tamara Geva divorced. Shortly after, Balanchine commenced a relationship with dancer Alexandra Danilova which lasted a few years.

After Diaghilev's death the Ballets Russes fell into disarray. Balanchine began to stage dances for the Cochran Revues in London, and was retained by the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagenmarker as guest ballet master. He returned to the Ballets Russes when it settled in Monte Carlomarker, resuming his post as ballet master for the new Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and choreographed three ballets: Cotillon, La Concurrence, and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. His muse in Monte Carlo was the young Tamara Toumanova, one of the original "Baby Ballerinas".

When René Blum passed control of the company to Colonel W. de Basil, Balanchine again left the Ballets Russes. This time he formed his own company, Les Ballets 1933, with the financial backing of Edward James and Diaghilev's former secretary and companion Boris Kochno as an advisor. The company lasted only a couple of months in 1933, but in that time several new choreographies were conceived by Balanchine, including artistic collaborations with Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill, Pavel Tchelitchew, Darius Milhaud, and Henri Sauguet.

It was after a performance by Les Ballets 1933 that Lincoln Kirstein, an American arts patron with a dream of establishing a ballet company in the U.S., met and quickly persuaded Balanchine to move to the United States. By October of that year, Balanchine had landed overseas for the first time and launched his influence on the character of American ballet and dance.

United States

Upon arriving in the United States, Balanchine insisted that his first project would be to establish a ballet school. With the support of Lincoln Kirstein and Edward M.M. Warburg, the School of American Ballet opened its doors to students on January 2, 1934, less than 3 months after Balanchine arrived in the U.S. The students premiered Serenade at the Warburg's summer estate later that year. During the 1930s and 1940s, in between his ballet activities, Balanchine worked as a choreographer for musical theater (with such notables as Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart and Vernon Duke). He greatly admired Fred Astaire, describing him as "the most interesting, the most inventive, the most elegant dancer of our times... you see a little bit of Astaire in everybody's dancing—a pause here, a move there. It was all Astaire originally."[29934]

In 1935, Balanchine formed a professional company called the American Ballet. After failing to mount a tour, the company began performing at the Metropolitan Opera House. In 1936 Balanchine was able to stage only Orfeo and Eurydice and in 1937 an evening of dance choreographed to the music of Igor Stravinsky.

He moved the company to Hollywoodmarker in 1938. He rented a white two-story house with Kopeikine on North Fairfax Avenue not far from Hollywood Boulevard. The company reconvened as the American Ballet Caravan and toured North and South America. It folded after several years. From 1944 to 1946, Balanchine served as resident choreographer for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

Soon he formed a new dance company, the Ballet Society, again with the generous help of Lincoln Kirstein. After it had several successful performances, and unsuccessful ones, the New York City Center for Music and Drama offered the company the position of resident company at the center. With that arrangement, in 1948 Ballet Society became the New York City Ballet. Balanchine's 1954 staging of The Nutcracker, performed every year in New York City during the Christmas season, has made the ballet a Christmas tradition in the United States, and a money-making tradition for most of the companies that perform it.

In the 1960s, Balanchine fell deeply in love with the young dancer Suzanne Farrell. He created many ballets for her, including Don Quixote (in which he played the Don and Farrell danced Dulcinea), and the Diamonds section of the ballet Jewels. Some ballerinas, including his former wife Maria Tallchief, quit, citing Farrell as the reason. Balanchine obtained a Mexican divorce from then-wife Tanaquil Le Clercq, only to discover Farrell had married NYCB dancer Paul Mejia. In 1970 both Farrell and her husband quit the company. They moved to Brusselsmarker and joined Maurice Béjart's dance company. In 1975, Farrell returned to dance with the NYCB.

In 1978, the first year of the new national award, George Balanchine received the Kennedy Center Honors Award.

In 1983 after years of illness, Balanchine died of Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, diagnosed only after his death. He first showed symptoms in 1978 when he began losing his balance while dancing. As the disease progressed, his equilibrium, eyesight and hearing deteriorated. By 1982 he was incapacitated. He died the following year at the age of 79 in New York City, NY, USA. In his last years, Balanchine also suffered from angina and underwent heart bypass surgery.

After his divorce from Tamara Geva, Balanchine married and divorced three more times. All his wives were dancers, women who were his muses: Vera Zorina (December 1938–1946), Maria Tallchief (1946–1952), and Tanaquil LeClerq (1952–1969), as was his girlfriend, Alexandra Danilova (1926–1933). He had no children.

Choreographed work

for the Ballets Russes

  • 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 the Ballets Russes de Monte-Carlo

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

for Les Ballets 1933

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

for the American Ballet

  • 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

::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.

for American Ballet Caravan

  • Encounter (1936)
  • Ballet Imperial (later referred to as the Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2) (1941)
  • Concerto Barocco (1941)

for the Ballet del Teatro de Colón

  • Mozart Violin Concerto (1942)

for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo

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

for the Ballet Theatre

for the Ballet Society

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

for the Paris Opera Balle

for the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas

  • Minkus Pas De Trois (1948)
Le Lourve de fait(1948)

for New York City Ballet

for New York City Opera


Further reading

See also



External links


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