The American Ballet School's gallery of portraits begins with George Balanchine. How did the unique style of the choreographer who was at the origins of ballet in the United States shape? What are its characteristic features?
From classics to experiments
Georgiy Balanchivadze was born in St. Petersburg into the family of a Georgian composer. After graduating from the Imperial Theater School, Balanchivadze became an artist of the Petrograd Opera and Ballet Theater (now the Mariinsky Theater) and at the same time studied at the Petrograd Conservatory.
Georgiy took his first steps in choreography with a small ensemble, the Young Ballet, for which he staged the first experimental productions. In 1924, after a tour in Germany, the impresario Sergei Diaghilev invited Balanchivadze to become a choreographer in his Russian Ballet troupe and suggested changing his name. This is how George Balanchine was born, who was to change the art of ballet radically.
From Diaghilev to European theater stages
After a knee injury, Balanchine could not continue his dance career, so he focused on choreography. From 1924 to 1929, being a choreographer of the Russian Ballet, he presented nine major productions and several separate numbers.
Balanchine tried out different genres: from the farce in Barabau to the music of Vittorio Rieti (1925) to the ballet constructivism in The Cat to the music of Henri Sauguet (1927). The choreographer first found his own style in the production of Apollo Musagete (1928). Balanchine as if pushed away from the classical dance and renewed it to the score of Stravinsky. Cooperation of the choreographer and composer began with this production.
The next stage in Balanchine's choreographic career was position of a guest choreographer in London and Copenhagen. But both locations turned out to be just steps on the way toward the greatest creative period in his life.
From emigration to the creation of a national ballet school
An arts patron Lincoln Kirstein invited Balanchine to come to America. In 1934, the choreographer opened a ballet school, based on which he later established his own ballet company. For this American choreographic troupe, which was named New York City Ballet in 1948, Balanchine staged about 150 works. But the most important thing was that it was in America that he formed his author's style and distinctive features of the national American ballet.
This period in the choreographer’s life was marked by a new rise: Balanchine created unique performances in different genres and revived the existing ballets.
His famous productions to the music by Tchaikovsky appeared here, namely: Serenade (1935), Ballet Imperial (1941), Allegro Brillinte (1956), Meditation (1963), Diamonds - part of the ballet Jewels (1967), Mozartiana (1981).
An important part of Balanchine's professional career was his collaboration with Stravinsky. Together, the composer and choreographer created a total of 30 performances. Among them are The Fairy's Kiss and Card Game (both 1937), Danses Concertantes (1944), Orpheus (1948).
The real ballet classic of the 20th century became the Firebird of 1949, it was again made to the music of Igor Stravinsky. Their creative collaboration continued fruitfully in the 1950s and 1960s: Balanchine staged several ballets to the music of the composer at once. These were Agon (1957), Variations (1966) and Rubies - another part of the cult ballet Jewels (1967).
Great music classics inspired the choreographer to create the ballet Concerto Baroque to the music by Bach (1941), Symphony in C to the music by Bizet (1947) and Divertimento No. 15 to the music by Mozart (1956).
Balanchine also proposed his interpretation of classical ballet plots. Thus, in 1951, the audience saw his Swan Lake, followed by The Nutcracker in 1954, watching which on Christmas Eve has been a tradition for many people for over half a century now.
Master's signature: plot and music in Balanchine's ballets
George Balanchine's choreographic legacy is as varied as it is great. He created 465 performances during his life, and at the same time left a mark not only in ballet. Balanchine staged Broadway musicals, managed ballet productions for television, directed opera performances.
However, his plotless ballets and specific relations with music gained him worldwide fame. The choreographer worked with genres that, at first glance, were not intended for ballet. Concerts and ensembles, suites and symphonies staged by Balanchine became unique musical material. He used the works by both classical and contemporary composers.
Just as in his youth Georgiy Balanchivadze dexterously combined his studies at the conservatory and work with the ballet company, choreographer George Balanchine masterfully created productions at the intersection of musical imagery and dance emotionality. In Balanchine's performances, the plastique image became the foundation of everything else, pushing back the plot twists and vivid sets. Dancers interact with the music and complement it stylistically. Even in typical American stories, the choreographer never changed his style. The cowboys in his Western Symphony production moved across the stage, combining the art of classical dance with "quotes" from jazz rhythmics.
Movements of the dancers in George Balanchine's productions are characterized by technicality and expression at the same time. Clean movements in the lower body and maximum expressiveness in the upper body - this is how his students describe the choreographer’s style.
An important feature of George Balanchine's choreographic work was that he never declared himself a revolutionary, never made any loud statements about breaking with classical ballet art. And yet he treated the ballet traditions boldly, was not afraid to experiment with genres and allowed the music to sound openly - not as an accompaniment to the dance but as its equal.