George Balanchine (born Georgiy Melitonovich Balanchivadze; Russian: Гео́ргий Мелито́нович Баланчива́дзе, Georgian: გიორგი მელიტონის ძე ბალანჩივაძე, IPA: /ˈbɑːləntʃiːn/; January 22, 1904 – April 30, 1983) was a Russian-born Georgian-American ballet choreographer who was one of the most influential 20th century choreographers. Styled as the father of American ballet, he co-founded the New York City Ballet and remained its Artistic Director for more than 35 years.
Balanchine took the standards and technique from his time at the Imperial Ballet School and fused it with other schools of movement that he had adopted during his tenure on Broadway and in Hollywood, creating his signature "neoclassical style".
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. Balanchine was invited to America in 1933 by a young arts patron named Lincoln Kirstein, and together they founded the School of American Ballet. Along with Kirstein, Balanchine also co-founded the New York City Ballet (NYCB).
Balanchine in 1965
Georgi Melitonovich Balanchivadze
January 22, 1904
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
|Died||April 30, 1983 (aged 79)|
|Occupation||Dancer, choreographer, actor, director|
(m. 1921; div. 1926)
(m. 1938; div. 1946)
(m. 1946; ann. 1952)
(m. 1952; div. 1969)
|Awards||Presidential Medal of Freedom, among others (see below)|
Balanchine was born Giorgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze (Georgian: გიორგი მელიტონის ძე ბალანჩივაძე) in Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire, son of Georgian opera singer and composer Meliton Balanchivadze, one of the founders of the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre and later the culture minister of the Democratic Republic of Georgia, which became independent in 1918 but was later subsumed into the Soviet Union.
The rest of the Georgian side of Balanchine's 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 the lower reaches of St. Petersburg society.:23 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.
As a child, Balanchine was not particularly interested in ballet, but his mother insisted that he audition with his sister Tamara, who shared her mother's interest in the art. Balanchine's brother Andria Balanchivadze instead followed his father's love for music and became a composer in Soviet Georgia. Tamara's career, however, would be cut short by her death in unknown circumstances as she was trying to escape on a train from besieged Leningrad to Georgia.:248
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 (Gerdt's son-in-law).
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.
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.
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". Apollo is regarded as the original neoclassical ballet. Apollo brought the male dancer to the forefront, giving him two solos within the ballet. Apollo is known for its minimalism, utilizing simple costumes and sets. This allowed the audience not to be distracted from the movement. Balanchine considered music to be the primary influence on choreography, as opposed to the narrative.
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. Among his new works for the company were Danses Concertantes, a pure dance piece to music by Stravinsky, and Night Shadow, revived under the title La Sonnambula, the haunting tale of a poet who falls in love with a mysterious and alluring sleepwalker.
In 1931, with the help from financier Serge Denham, René Blum and Colonel Wassily de Basil formed the Ballets Russes de Monte-Carlo, a successor to Ballets Russes. The new company hired Leonide Massine and Balanchine as choreographers. Featured dancers included David Lichine and Tatiana Riabouchinska. In 1933, without consulting Blum, Col. de Basil dropped Balanchine after one year – ostensibly because he thought that audiences preferred the works choreographed by Massine. Librettist Boris Kochno was also let go, while dancer Tamara Toumanova (a strong admirer of Balanchine's) left the company when Balanchine was fired.
Balanchine and Kochno immediately founded Les Ballets 1933, with Kochno, Diaghilev's former secretary and companion, serving as artistic advisor. The company was financed by Edward James, a British poet and ballet patron. 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. Balanchine created several new works, including collaborations with composers Kurt Weill, Darius Milhaud, Henri Sauguet and designer Pavel Tchelitchew.
Balanchine insisted that his first project in the United States would be to establish a ballet school because he wanted to develop dancers who had strong technique along with his particular style. 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 three 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 school of American Ballet became and is now a home for dancers of New York City Ballet as well as companies from all over the world.
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. Balanchine choreographed Broadway's On Your Toes in 1936. This musical featured the ballet Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, in which a tap dancer falls in love with a dance-hall girl. His choreography in musicals was unique at the time because it furthered the plot of the story. 
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", 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 Blum & Massine's new iteration of Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo.
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.
In 1954, 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. His other famous ballets created for New York companies include Firebird, Allegro Brilliante, Agon, The Seven Deadly Sins, and Episodes.
In 1967, Balanchine's ballet Jewels displayed specific characteristics of Balanchine's choreography. The corps de ballet dancers execute rapid footwork and precise movements. The choreography is difficult to execute and all dancers must do their jobs in order to hold the integrity of the piece. Balanchine's use of musicality can also be seen in this work. His other famous works with New York City Ballet are popular today and are performed in the Lincoln Center by New York City Ballet: Mozartiana, Apollo, Orpheus, and A Midsummer Night's Dream.
After years of illness, Balanchine died on 30 April 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.
Clement Crisp, one of the many writers who eulogized Balanchine, assessed his contribution: "It is hard to think of the ballet world without the colossal presence of George Balanchine ..." In his lifetime he created 465 works. Balanchine extended the traditions of classical ballet. His choreography remains the same to the present day and the School of American Ballet still uses his teaching technique. As one of the 20th century's best-known choreographers, his style and vision of ballet is interesting to many generations of choreographers.
In 1923, Balanchine married Tamara Geva, a sixteen-year-old dancer. After his divorce from 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.
Biographer and intellectual historian Clive James 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), James writes that:
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.
With his School of American Ballet, New York City Ballet, and 400 choreographed works, Balanchine transformed American dance and created neoclassical ballet, developing a unique style with his dancers highlighted by brilliant speed and attack.
George Balanchine Way is a segment of West 63rd Street (located between Columbus Avenue and Broadway) in New York City that was renamed in his honor in June of 1990.
1975 French Légion d'honneur
Over the decades Balanchine shared his artistic insights with several of his students including:
A Midsummer Night's Dream is a two-act ballet choreographed by George Balanchine to Felix Mendelssohn's music to Shakespeare's play of the same name. In addition to the incidental music, Balanchine incorporated other Mendelssohn works into the ballet, including the Overtures to Athalie, Son and Stranger, and The Fair Melusine, the "String Symphony No. 9 in C minor" and The First Walpurgis Night. A Midsummer Night's Dream, Balanchine's first completely original full-length ballet, premiered at New York City Ballet on 17 January 1962, with Edward Villella in the role of Oberon, Melissa Hayden in the role of Titania, and Arthur Mitchell in the role of Puck. They were joined by Francisco Moncion in the role of Theseus- Duke of Athens. The ballet employs a large children's corps de ballet. Act I tells Shakespeare's familiar story of lovers and fairies while Act II presents a strictly classical dance wedding celebration. The ballet dispenses with Shakespeare's play-within-a-play finale. A Midsummer Night's Dream opened The New York City Ballet's first season at the New York State Theater in April, 1964.Agon (ballet)
Agon (1957) is a neoclassical ballet for twelve dancers, with music by Igor Stravinsky and choreography by George Balanchine. Composition began in December 1953 but was interrupted the next year; work was resumed in 1956 and concluded on April 27, 1957; the music was first performed on June 17, 1957, in Los Angeles conducted by Robert Craft, while the first stage performance was given by the New York City Ballet on December 1, 1957, at the City Center of Music and Drama, New York (White 1979, 490). The composition's long gestation period covers an interesting juncture in Stravinsky's composing career, in which he moved from a diatonic musical language to one based on twelve-tone technique; the music of the ballet thus demonstrates a unique symbiosis of musical idioms. The ballet has no story, but consists of a series of dance movements in which various groups of dancers interact in pairs, trios, quartets, etc. A number of the movements are based on 17th-century French court dances – saraband, galliard and bransle. It was danced as part of City Ballet's 1982 Stravinsky Centennial Celebration.Balanchine technique
Balanchine technique or Balanchine method is the ballet performance style invented by dancer, choreographer, and teacher George Balanchine (1904–1983), and a trademark of the George Balanchine Foundation. It is used widely today in many of Balanchine's choreographic works. It is employed by ballet companies and taught in schools throughout North America, including the New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet, where it first emerged.Ballets Russes
The Ballets Russes (French: [balɛ ʁys]) was an itinerant ballet company based in Paris that performed between 1909 and 1929 throughout Europe and on tours to North and South America. The company never performed in Russia, where the Revolution disrupted society. After its initial Paris season, the company had no formal ties there.Originally conceived by impresario Sergei Diaghilev, the Ballets Russes is widely regarded as the most influential ballet company of the 20th century, in part because it promoted ground-breaking artistic collaborations among young choreographers, composers, designers, and dancers, all at the forefront of their several fields. Diaghilev commissioned works from composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Claude Debussy, and Sergei Prokofiev, artists such as Vasily Kandinsky, Alexandre Benois, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse, and costume designers Léon Bakst and Coco Chanel.
The company's productions created a huge sensation, completely reinvigorating the art of performing dance, bringing many visual artists to public attention, and significantly affecting the course of musical composition. It also introduced European and American audiences to tales, music, and design motifs drawn from Russian folklore. The influence of the Ballets Russes lasts to the present day.Bayou (ballet)
Bayou is a ballet made by New York City Ballet's co-founder and ballet master George Balanchine to Virgil Thomson's Acadian Songs and Dances (1947). The premiere took place on 21 February 1952 at City Center of Music and Drama, New York.Circus Polka
Circus Polka: For a Young Elephant was written by Igor Stravinsky in 1942. He composed it for a ballet production that the choreographer George Balanchine did for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The ballet was performed by fifty elephants and fifty ballerinas. In 1944, Stravinsky published an orchestration of the piece, which is now part of the repertoire of many orchestras.Ivesiana
Ivesiana is a ballet made by New York City Ballet co-founder and ballet master George Balanchine to Charles Ives' Central Park in the Dark (1906), The Unanswered Question (1906), In the Inn (1904-06?), and In the Night (1906) shortly after the composer's death. The premiere took place September 14, 1954, at the City Center of Music and Drama. Other works to the music of Ives in the City Ballet repertory include Peter Martins' Calcium Light Night, Jerome Robbins' Ives, Songs and Eliot Feld's The Unanswered Question.List of ballets by George Balanchine
This is a list of ballets by George Balanchine (1904–1983), New York City Ballet co-founder and ballet master.Orpheus (ballet)
Orpheus is a thirty-minute neoclassical ballet in three tableaux composed by Igor Stravinsky in collaboration with choreographer George Balanchine in Hollywood, California in 1947. The work was commissioned by the Ballet Society, which Balanchine founded together with Lincoln Kirstein and of which he was Artistic Director. Sets and costumes were created by Isamu Noguchi.Serenade (ballet)
Serenade is a ballet by George Balanchine to Tschaikovsky's 1880 Serenade for Strings in C, Op. 48. Students of the School of American Ballet gave the first performance on Sunday, 10 June 1934 on the Felix M. Warburg estate in White Plains, N.Y., where Mozartiana had been danced the previous day. This was the first ballet that Balanchine choreographed in America. It was then presented by the Producing Company of the School of American Ballet on 6 December at the Avery Memorial Theatre of the Wadsworth Atheneum with sets by the painter William Littlefield. Balanchine presented the ballet as his response to the generous sponsorships he received during his immigration to America. The official premiere took place on 1 March 1935 with the American Ballet at the Adelphi Theatre, New York, conducted by Sandor Harmati.
NYCB principal dancer Philip Neal chose to include Serenade in his farewell performance on Sunday, 13 June 2010.
The blue tutus used in Serenade inspired the naming of the Balanchine crater on the planet Mercury.Swan Lake (Balanchine)
Swan Lake is a one-act ballet made by New York City Ballet's co-founder and ballet master George Balanchine to Tschaikovsky's eponymous music (1875–56). The premiere took place Thursday, 20 November 1951 at the City Center of Music and Drama, New York.Tango (Balanchine)
Tango is a ballet made by New York City Ballet co-founder and founding choreographer George Balanchine to Stravinsky's Tango (1940) arranged 1953 by the composer. The premiere took place June 10, 1982, as part of City Ballet's Stravinsky Centennial Celebration at the New York State Theater, Lincoln Center.Tarantella (ballet)
Tarantella is a ballet made by New York City Ballet co-founder and balletmaster George Balanchine to Louis Moreau Gottschalk's Grande Tarantelle, Op. 67 (ca. 1858–64), reconstructed and orchestrated for piano and orchestra by Hershy Kay in July 1954. The premiere took place January 7, 1964, at the City Center of Music and Drama, New York.The Flood (Stravinsky)
The Flood: A musical play (1962) is a short biblical drama by Igor Stravinsky on the allegory of Noah, originally written as a work for television. It contains singing, spoken dialogue, and ballet sequences. It is in Stravinsky's late, serial style.
The work was premiered in the United States on the CBS Television Network on 14 June 1962, a production conducted by Robert Craft and choreographed by George Balanchine. Dramatic actors participating in the work included Laurence Harvey (Narrator), Sebastian Cabot (Noah), and Elsa Lanchester (Noah's Wife, which Lanchester played with a Cockney accent). Robert Craft also conducted the first staged performance, in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1962, and again in Hamburg on 30 April 1963.Theme and Variations (ballet)
Theme and Variations is a ballet by George Balanchine to the final movement of Tchaikovsky's Suite No. 3 for Orchestra in G major, Op. 55 (1884). The premiere took place on 26 November 1947, with Ballet Theatre (shortly thereafter renamed American Ballet Theatre) at City Center of Music and Drama. The conductor was Benjamin Steinberg. Theme and Variations was conceived especially for Alicia Alonso and Igor Youskevitch. The City Ballet premiere occurred 5 February 1960, again at City Center. It was incorporated by Balanchine into his later Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3 as its fourth (and final) movement, now titled Tema con variazioni. Theme and Variations is still danced independently of the other three movements of Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3 by NYCB as well as other companies.Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3
Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3 is a ballet made by New York City Ballet co-founder and founding choreographer George Balanchine to Tschaikovsky's Suite No. 3 for Orchestra in G major, Op. 55 (1884). The premiere took place on 3 December 1970 at the New York State Theater, Lincoln Center, with scenery and costumes by Nicolas Benois.Variations (ballet)
Variations is a ballet made by New York City Ballet co-founder and founding choreographer George Balanchine to Stravinsky's Variations: Aldous Huxley in memoriam (1963–64). The premiere took place on Thursday, 31 March 1966 at the New York State Theater, Lincoln Center; Balanchine made a new version for City Ballet's 1982 Stravinsky Centennial Celebration.Variations for Orchestra (Balanchine)
Variations for Orchestra is the last ballet made by New York City Ballet co-founder and founding choreographer George Balanchine to Igor Stravinsky's Variations: Aldous Huxley in memoriam (1963–64). The premiere took place on Friday, 2 July 1982 at the New York State Theater, Lincoln Center.Walpurgisnacht Ballet
Walpurgisnacht Ballet is a ballet made by New York City Ballet's co-founder and founding choreographer George Balanchine for a 1975 production of Gounod's 1859 Faust at the Théâtre National de l'Opéra, including the additional ballet music from 1869. The New York City Ballet premiere was its first presentation as an independent work and took place on Thursday, 15 May 1980 at the New York State Theater, Lincoln Center. Balanchine had previously made dances for a production of Faust at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo, danced by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, as well as in 1935 for the Metropolitan Opera and 1945 for the Opera Nacional, Mexico City.
Walpurgisnacht is found at the beginning of the last act of Faust. Mephistopheles shows Faust the folk celebration before May Day, when the souls of the dead are released briefly to wander as they will. The ballet does not directly depict the Walpurgis Night but builds on a sense of joyful revelry.
Kennedy Center Honorees (1970s)
Ballets by George Balanchine