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George Balanchine

ballet dancer and choreographer

George Balanchine

Georgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on January 22, 1904. The son of a composer, he began taking piano lessons at age five, and was accepted into the ballet section of Saint Petersburg's Imperial Theater School at age nine. After graduating with honors in 1921, he joined the State Theater of Opera and Ballet. He also entered the Petrograd Conservatory of Music, where he studied piano and music theory; he graduated in 1923.

Balanchine began to choreograph while still in his teens, creating his first work in 1920 or earlier. It was a pas de deux called La Nuit, for himself and a female student, to the music of Anton Rubinstein. This was followed by another duet, Enigma, with the dancers in bare feet rather than ballet shoes. In 1923, he and some of his colleagues formed a small troupe, the Young Ballet, for which he composed several works in an experimental vein, but the authorities disapproved, and the performers were threatened with dismissal if they continued to participate.

In 1924, Balanchine and three other dancers were allowed to leave the newly formed Soviet Union for a tour of Western Europe. They did not return. While performing in London, the dancers were invited by the impresario Serge Diaghilev to audition for his renowned Ballets Russes and were taken into the company. Diaghliev then hired Balanchine as ballet master (choreographer), and Balanchine created a total of eleven ballets before Diaghilev died in 1929, at which time the Ballets Russes disbanded. Balanchine suffered a serious knee injury during this period, and he spent the rest of his career as a choreographer.

Between 1929 and 1933, Balanchine staged dances for Britain's popular Cochran Revues, acted as guest ballet master for the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen, and was engaged by its founder René Blum as ballet master for a new Ballets Russes, the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. In 1933, he formed Les Ballets in Paris, for which he created six ballets.

Balanchine immigrated to the United States in October 1933 after American ballet patron Lincoln Kirstein asked him to cofound and direct a school of ballet. The School of American Ballet began classes on January 2, 1934 (in New York City), and still operates today as part of the Julliard School. In 1935, he established the American Ballet Company, which then became the resident ballet at the Metropolitan Opera.

Creative differences led Balanchine to leave the Met in 1938, and he spent the next several years teaching at the school and working in musical theater and films. In 1941, he and Kirstein assembled the American Ballet Caravan, which toured South America for five months. In 1946, he and Kirstein formed the Ballet Society, which became the New York City Ballet on October 11, 1948. He served as its artistic director until his death, which came in New York City on April 30, 1983.

Pages of Interest

The George Balanchine Foundation
New York City Ballet

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This page was last updated on 01/14/2019.