As one of the greatest geniuses in the history of the arts, George Balanchine (1904-1983) put his mark on the development of twentieth-century dance.
Balanchine trained at the renowned school of the Mariinsky Ballet (now the Vaganova Academy). There, and later on with the Mariinsky Ballet, he was trained in the principles and style of choreographer and artistic director Marius Petipa, which led to Balanchine’s emergence as Petipa’s legitimate artistic successor.
He was the only choreographer working in the West who could draw on such depths of the rich movement repertoire of nineteenth-century classical ballet. This is demonstrated, in particular, by Balanchine’s brilliant pointework variations and the elegance and aristocratic refinement of his choreography.
While Balanchine’s work is rooted firmly in classical ballet on the one hand, on the other he was inspired by Constructivism, an art movement that arose with the Russian Revolution. Along with some of his colleagues, he founded the avant-garde Young Ballet in 1921, which experimented with eroticism, abstraction and approaches derived from the circus.
In 1924, Balanchine was engaged by the impresario Serge Diaghilev, who was to astound the world with his legendary Ballets Russes, for which he brought the greatest talents of Russian dance and choreography to Paris.
Diaghilev brought Balanchine into contact with another of his discoveries, Igor Stravinsky, and so began an extremely productive collaboration between choreographer and composer.
However, Balanchine found his main source of inspiration for modernising classical ballet in America, where he moved in 1933 following the death of Diaghilev, at the invitation of the American art connoisseur Lincoln Kirstein. Up to Balanchine’s death, Kirstein was the managing director of the company for which Balanchine set the artistic tone. This company was christened New York City Ballet in 1948 and rapidly grew into one of the most famous ballet companies in the world.
The American lifestyle lent dynamism, brilliance and tempo to Balanchine’s work. His productivity was unparalleled, and he created the choreography for over four hundred ballets, films, operas, revues and musicals, with a creative power that continued until just a few years before his death.