January 14th, 2004
George Balanchine
Master of the Dance

By the time of his death on April 30, 1983, George Balanchine had created over 400 works and was recognized as a 20th-century master alongside Picasso and Stravinsky. Here is the story of how the man born Georg Melitonovitch Balanchivadze in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1904 went on to become the artistic director and primary choreographer of the New York City Ballet:

The man who would one day rank among the greatest choreographers in the history of ballet came to the United States in late 1933 following an early career throughout Europe. His trip came at the invitation of Lincoln Kirstein, a Boston born dance connoisseur whose dream it was to establish an American school of ballet and company equivalent to those in Europe.

The first result of the Balanchine-Kirstein collaboration was the School of American Ballet, founded in early 1934. It later became known as the premier American ballet academy and breeding ground for the New York City Ballet, which Balanchine and Kirstein were to establish together after 14 more years, in 1948. Balanchine’s first ballet in this country was “Serenade,” set to music by Tchaikovsky, which was premiered outdoors on the estate of a friend near White Plains, New York, as a workshop performance by students of the school.

In 1935, Balanchine and Kirstein set up a touring company of dancers from the school and called it the American Ballet. That same year the Metropolitan Opera invited the company to become its resident ballet, with Balanchine as the Met’s ballet master. On October 11, 1948, Morton Baum, chairman of the City Center finance committee, saw Ballet Society, formed two years earlier by Balanchine and Kirstein, in a City Center Theater program that included “Orpheus,” “Serenade” and “Symphony in C” (a ballet Balanchine had created for the Paris Opera Ballet under the title “Le Palais de Cristal” the previous year).

Baum was so impressed that he negotiated to have the company join the City Center municipal complex. Balanchine’s talents had found a permanent home. That home was to become known as New York City Ballet and Balanchine would serve as its artistic director until his death in 1983.

With a company initially strapped for cash, Balanchine eschewed elaborate costumes and sets and presented his dancers in practice clothes, an innovation he continued to use for selected ballets long after money was no longer an issue. Among the “practice-clothes ballets” in the Balanchine repertory: “Agon,” “Episodes,” “Ivesiana,” “Kammermusic No. 2,” and more than 20 Stravinsky/ Balanchine collaborations.

At this time, he also choreographed “The Nutcracker,” New York City Ballet’s first full-length ballet and an enduring popular success. Although it took a long while for New York City Ballet to become a popular company, by the time Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts opened in 1964, Balanchine’s reputation was established and he was ready to reach a larger audience on a larger stage.

To many observers who followed New York City Ballet through the lean years, the opulent and elaborate productions that began to emerge at the New York State Theater must have seemed out of character. For those, however, who realized that Balanchine had dreamed of creating for America what the Maryinsky had been for Russia, the development was perfectly logical, and ballets such as “Don Quixote,” “Union Jack,” “Jewels,” and “Vienna Waltzes” soon followed.

The legacy left by Balanchine when he died remains as profound as it is extensive.

  • Courtney Hingston

    Hello! I run a dance studio on Cape Cod and I was wondering if their is any way to purchase your showing of George Balanchines documentary Masters of Dance. I was hoping to introduce this dance to my students, but I cant remember the exact choreography. I have been looking for months with no luck! Is their any way to get a copy!?!? Thank you so much!
    Courtney Hingston
    New Emgland Ballet Theatre

  • RJ

    I actually taped via vhs the pbs special of Serenade back in the early 80’s. Mesmerizing. Sadly, I lent it out, never saw it again, no matter how many times i asked for it. I would so love to see that version again. Unbelievable.

  • RJ

    I taped Balanchine’s Serenade via VHS back in the early 80’s. Phenomenal. Sadly, I loaned it out, never to be seen again. I would BEG PBS to repeat that show. On top of which, I would double BEG them to offer that ballet for sale.

  • Natalia Castro

    I think it is not legal to have those kind of videos and if you want to make any Balanchine’s choreogrephies, you should get a license and the permission to do that…

  • E.B.

    It is illegal to take or reproduce any of Balanchine’s choreography without specific permission from the George Balanchine Foundation. Also if you want to learn or perform his choreography you have to pay for the specific ballet and get special recognition from the foundation.

  • Martin Cassidy

    The US Federal Courts have established that it is LEGAL to record ANYTHING on TV for personal use.

  • Sandra

    The DVD for this program is available for purchase. It’s fantastic !! I’ve watched it a dozen times and I’m sure I’ll watch it dozens of times more. I only wish it were about 10 times longer than it is, my appetite is huge. The archival footage is breathtaking. Arthur Mitchell and Diana Adams dancing the Agon pas de deux, Suzanne Farrell and Jacques d’Amboise dancing Movements for Piano and Orchestra, Mikhail Barishnikov dancing Prodigal Son, and so so so much more … Apollo, Four Temperaments, Ivesiana … it literally pains me that I cannot access the complete videos of these ballets. Add to this all of the fabulous information about Balanchine himself, and the result is the perfect, entertaining, inspiring, and uplifting documentary, the ending of which may very well bring tears to your eyes.

  • Quon

    Sandra,

    Where can I buy the DVD for George Balachine: Master of Dance?

  • Austin Jones

    george-balanchine hello All of my friends

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