Balanchine was born in St. Petersburg on January 22, 1904 to Georgian parents. He became the father of American ballet, and is considered the foremost choreographer of the 20th century. He was trained in the Tsar’s famous Imperial Theater School in St. Petersburg and the Petrograd Conservatory of Music. His talent for music and choreography emerged at an early age, but because of the experimental nature of his work, he was forbidden to continue, and focused on his dancing instead. After suffering the deprivation and hardship brought on by the Russian Revolution, he fled Russia for the West, along with three other dancers, Tamara Geva (who became the first of his numerous wives), Alexandra Danilova (she was his second unofficial wife), and Nicholas Efimov. All of them were hired by Sergei Diaghilev, the great expatriate Russian impresario who ran the renowned Ballets Russes. All of them achieved fame and success, but not without many challenges and obstacles.
A knee injury and the death of Diaghilev in 1929 spurred Balanchine toward choreography. When he met Lincoln Kirstein, the young American arts patron in 1933, his fate was sealed. Kirstein had a vision of an American ballet tradition, which became actualized with the help of Balanchine. Together they founded the School of American Ballet in 1934. This school became the training ground for future American dancers. The New York City Ballet was born from their collaboration in 1948.
Balanchine moved ballet away from its traditional classical, story-telling roots, infusing it with a more abstract and geometric, less artificial style. Instead of tutus and skirts, his dancers wore skin clinging leotards. Retaining the rigorous athleticism and technical perfection of the Russian dance tradition, Balanchine developed the unique and modern approach of American dance, which went on to achieve international influence.
Balanchine believed that dance was music made manifest – music brought to life in a physical form. His collaborations with Stravinsky are legendary. His tendency to fall in love with and marry his muse of the moment resulted in 4 marriages, plus his long term partnership with Alexandra Danilova. Among his wives was the first great American ballerina, Maria Tallchief. His last love and inspiration was the brilliant and beautiful Suzanne Farrell, who always remained out of his reach.
Suzanne Farrell, Peter Martins in Tzigane – New York City Ballet; choreography Balanchine
Balanchine’s The Nutcracker (complete)
Pas de Duex – Stars and Stripes; Choreography Balanchine
Excerpt from Ballets Russes documentary
Interview with Suzanne Farrell on Balanchine
George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky