The Life and Legacy of George Balanchine

Essay, 2003

10 Pages


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The Life and Legacy of George Balanchine

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The Life and Legacy of George Balanchine

By the time of George Balanchine’s untimely passing on April 30th, 1983, this 20th century master of choreography in ballet had created more than 400 works. His name is celebrated in the art world, much as Picasso or Stravinsky. Balanchine was arguably the most influential person in ballet, and his legacy continues to benefit the world of ballet long after his death.

George Balanchine was born Georgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze in St. Petersburg, Russia. He was born the son of a composer, and as such, was exposed to music at any early age, not often experienced by any other composer. At the age of five, Balanchine began to take piano lessons, and at nine years old, “he was accepted into the ballet section of St. Petersburg's rigorous Imperial Theater School, and, with other young students, was soon appearing on the stage of the famed Maryinsky Theater in such spectacles as The Sleeping Beauty.” (“George Balanchine, 1904-1983”) While dancing, the multitalented Balanchine enrolled in the Petrograd Conservatory of Music, where for three years, he studied piano, music theory, composition, harmony, and counterpoint. (“SAB Biography”)

During the Russian Revolution, Balanchine oftentimes played the piano in cabarets or at silent movie houses for bread. It was this broad musical schooling that allowed Balanchine, as a choreographer, to communicate so effectively with the composers he worked with. In addition, he utilized this training to make piano reduction of orchestral scores, which helped him in translating music to dance. (“George Balanchine, 1904-1983”)

As a teenager, Balanchine began to work on choreography. His first piece, La Nuit , a pas de deux, was set to the music of Anton Rubinstein, and was created for himself and a female student. He staged one work for the Corps de Ballet entitled Enigmas, however he was more focused on choreographic experiments outside the company. (“SAB Biography”) In 1923, Balanchine, along with some of his colleagues formed the Young Ballet, a small troupe for which he composed several experimental works. However, “ the authorities disapproved, and the performers were threatened with dismissal if they continued to participate. Then fatefully, in the summer of 1924, Balanchine and three other dancers were permitted to leave the newly formed Soviet Union for a tour of Western Europe. They did not return.” (“George Balanchine, 1904-1983”)

Impresario, Serge Diaghilev, saw a performance of the troupe and invited the dancers to audition for his Ballet Russes. Recognizing the immeasurable talent within Balanchine, Diaghilev hired him as the troupe’s principal choreographer. And, in 1925, Balanchine unveiled the first of four treatments he would make to Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortilèges. His reworking of Stravinsky’s Le Chant du Rossignol closely followed this. It was during his time with the Ballet Russes that Balanchine suffered a serious knee injury, which prompted him to devote himself fully to choreography instead of dance. Balanchine would create nine more ballets for the Ballets Russes, until its final closure due to Diaghilev’s death. (“George Balanchine, 1904-1983”)


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The Life and Legacy of George Balanchine
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Kimberly Wylie (Author), 2003, The Life and Legacy of George Balanchine, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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