George Balanchine:

The peer in his field

PLOTLESS BALLET: A rare picture of Walpurgisnacht, coreograped by Balanchine for the New York City Ballet and to the mine of Gounod’s Faust.

BALLET: Marius, Petipa, Leonid Lavravsky, John Cranko, Vladimir Bonrnmeister, V. Chabukiani, Yuri Giigarovich, Maurice Bejart, Fredrick Ashton, Peter Darrel, Martha Graham, Nijinsky, Rudolf Nureyev, Paul Taylor, Glen Tetley, Kenneth MacMillan and Merce Cunnigham are some of the great choreographers who have shaped ballet to what it is today but there is one that rises above all of them.

An enigma was George Balanchine. Many of these choreographers came under the influence of Balanchine during his lifetime and they owe a great deal to his craft and aplomb in the art of choreographing excellent ballets.

What made Balanchine outstanding? Firstly, he had the flair to make his dancers attractive in movement and personality. Secondly, he had unsurpassed musicality which was the base for his ballets.

He sustained these qualities over the years and gave his ensemble homogeneity. He had developed his own genre and avoided long spectacular ballet through a full evening but his development sprang logically from within.

It was his dream-prodigy, the New York City Ballet that turned the trends for America in identifying their own dance on equal terms with the West. He made ballet's future more brilliant by inviting Martha Graham to undertake part of the choreography and as we all know, that was the turning point in her stupendous career with the NYCB, Balanchine produced exciting but austere dances in his own inverted-classical manner.

In the process, he discovered another modern dancer who eventually became a great choregraphers, Paul Taylor. Balanchine created a special ballet for Taylor, Episades to the music of Webern. Episades is now in the NYCB's repertory.

New York City Ballet is a testimony to its creator, Balanchine who displayed the importance of one creative strong minded person's capability that was strikingly responsible for one of the largest and leading ballet company to remain remarkably unaffected down the years while other companies suffered different fates.

This is New York City Ballet with autocratic power exercised by the company's chief choreographer/artistic director, Balanchine. He made ballet such a power of communication that stunned the world and react in exhilaration to mesmerise even those who did not know what ballet was nor seen or heard about it.

Balanchine was born in St. Petersburg on January 22, 1904 as Georgi Meltonovich Balanchivadz. He was educated at the Russian Imperial School of Ballet where he became a young choreographer.

Balanchine left Russia in 1924 and soon made a name and in 1933 was invited to organise a school and company in American ballet which after hard work and dedication, the New York City Ballet became a reality.

He went on to completely dominate ballet not only in America but as well as in Western Europe. Presently he has over forty ballets in the repertory of the New York City Ballet while many others danced around the world in their own respective companies.

No other choreographer has ever had so many ballets performed so widely and so often. Neither did any other choreographer reached his position but Balanchine with his remarkable gifts was able to apply his hand almost to any kind of ballet with great success.

However, he had little interest to tell a story through ballet. At the beginning and in 1928, he created Apollo, one of his best loved ballets. He highlighted the muscular strength of Apollo and made movements simple but breath taking to the musical scores of Stravinsky.

The ballet had austere beauty that proved timeless with its strict academic qualities. What was unique in Apollo was that it was remoulded to suit the themes of different composers whose music was used by the subsequent choreographers. Balanchine was very young when he created Apollo but he kept mounting it over the years and admitted that he found the perfect God, Apollo in Rudolf Nureyev, almost forty years later.

Balanchine always used the old virtuoso classical techniques either in sheer brilliant dance display or mistily romantic mood. He used the basis from 19th century classics of Glinka, and Drigo through to Taichovosky. His other favourite composers were Glazunov, Delibas, Faure, Brahms, and Ravel.

He even used some of the works of Mozart while Stravinsky remained his firm favourite. On many an occasion, Stravinsky had influenced him towards new ballets. They would relate to each other in the harmony of their own genius that made the composer/choreographer immaculate. Some of Balanchine's well-known ballets are; Apollo (Stravinsky), Ballet Imperial (Tchaikovsky), Symphony in C (Bizet), Western Symphony (Hersley Kay), Night Shadow (Vittorio Rietti), The Prodigal Son (Prokofiev), The Four temperaments (Hindemith), Agon (Stravinsky), and Episoded (Webem).

Balanchine died on April, 30, 1983 in New York. He won many awards including an honorary doctorate.


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