Balanchine: his remarkable story – from the Russian Revolution to founding New York City Ballet

George Balanchine rehearses members of the New York City Ballet Company for “Apollo” (1965).
Credit: Martha Swope Collection/New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

It is easy now to think of ‘Mr B’, as he was known, only as the architect of American ballet and all things modern.  Yet George Balanchine was born Georgi Balanchivadze in St Petersburg in 1904 and trained at the Imperial Ballet School, then renamed as the Petrograd Ballet School.  He lived through the dark days of war and revolution when there was hardly enough food to eat and not enough fuel to heat the school.  Yet throughout, he soaked up the  heritage of the Imperial School, its training, its traditions, its repertoire and then its move towards modernism and new ways of working. 

He started choreographing early when he was still a 16-year-old student in 1920.  He was experimenting with new ideas, already exhibiting his own unique style, which soon set him on a collision course with his superiors.   In 1924 he managed to get permission to arrange a tour in Germany with some other dancers; all of them seized their chance to gain their freedom in the West.  His first engagement was with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes for whom he created two of his early masterpieces, still in the repertoire today: Apollo and Prodigal Son.  Here he also met the composer who was to be his lifelong friend and collaborator, Igor Stravinsky.  Balanchine’s invitation from Lincoln Kirstein to come to America and set up the company that became the New York City Ballet is now part of ballet history.  Balanchine went on to create one of the world’s top ballet companies and a body of work that has established him as the foremost chorographer of the 20th Century. 

Although by now an American citizen he held true to his Russian roots.  The holy festival of Easter was celebrated with all due reverence; he would spend weeks cooking special food to share with his friends on Easter Sunday when they would exchange the traditional Russian Easter greetings;  Христос воскрес! (Christ is risen!) and the response isВоистину воскрес!(In truth He is risen!) This fascinating presentationlooks at his life and his achievements in the context of the history of ballet.

Presentation: this presentation is illustrated by PowerPoint slides, along with archive film clips and DVDs shown to illustrate the topic.

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