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Ballet & Dance

George Balanchine – The Founding Father of American Ballet
 
George Balanchine was one of the 20th century's most prolific choreographers. He was born in Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire, to the family of the noted Georgian opera singer and composer Meliton Balanchivadze, one of the founders of the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre and later - the culture minister of Georgia.
 
Balanchine was not particularly interested in ballet, but his mother basically forced him to audition with his sister Tamara, and, surprisingly, in 1913, at the age of only 9, he was accepted into the Imperial Ballet School, principal school of the Imperial Ballet. In 1917 the Bolsheviks disbanded the school as "an elitist symbol of the Czarist regime". To survive the hard times of the Civil War, Balanchine played the piano at cabarets and silent movie theaters, getting paid with food. 
 
In 1920 the Imperial Ballet School reopened, and it was then when Balanchine, while still in his teens, choreographed his first work - La Nuit, with music by Anton Rubinstein. During the next several years, he formed a small ensemble named the Young Ballet to explore new types of choreography, but it was soon shut down by the authorities as too unusual and "decadent".
 
Balanchine was notorious for his love of young and pretty dancers, with whom he had multiple relationships. In 1923 he married Tamara Geva, a sixteen-year-old fellow dancer. Just three years later he divorced her and started a relationship with Alexandra Danilova, another young dancer. This tradition would continue  with Vera Zorina (1938–1946), Maria Tallchief (1946–1952), and Tanaquil LeClercq (1952–1969) – all dancers from his ensembles.
 
The closure of his the Young Ballet, probably, was that proverbial last straw that forced Balanchine to defect: on a 1924 visit to Germany with the Soviet State Dancers, Balanchine, Tamara Geva, and two of their fellow dancers fled to Paris...
 
During Balanchine's stay in Paris, the center of Russian post-revolution emigration, he was invited by Sergei Diaghilev to join the Ballets Russes as a choreographer, and then was promoted  to ballet master of the company thanks to his avant-garde choreography. 
 
He created nine ballets, working with such famous composers as Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky and Claude Debussy, and with such renown artists as Pablo Picasso, Georges Rouault, and Henri Matisse, and combining several forms of art.
 
But then the Great Depression, that made finding sources of funding hard, and his desire to create a new school of ballet and train a new type of dancers, made Balanchine move to America. He immigrated in 1933, becoming one of the founders of the famed School of American Ballet in New York. 
 
In his new homeland, Balanchine would work with many ensembles, both created by himself and by famous ballet impresarios, on both coasts, in the 1940s settling in Hollywood to work for movie studios and later returning to New York to work for Broadway companies. During that time he gained both fame and notoriety...
 
Biographer James Clive wrote about an incident, when Balanchine, known for his own relationships with his ballerinas, fired Suzanne Farrell who fell in love with and married a young dancer.
 
In late 1970s the choreographer began losing balance while dancing, his eyesight and hearing started to deteriorate. By 1982 he became an invalid. The reason was discovered only after his sudden death in 1983 – he had been suffering from Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease. Symbolically, on the night of his death, his ensemble went on with its scheduled performance...
 
Sources:
Joseph Horowitz (2008). Artists in Exile: How Refugees from Twentieth-Century War and Revolution Transformed the American Performing Arts, New York: HarperCollins
Kendall, Elizabeth. Balanchine & the Lost Muse: Revolution & the Making of a Choreographer. Oxford University Press: 2013
 

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