Balanchine, George (bălˈənshēnˌ) [key], 1904–83, American choreographer and ballet dancer, b. St. Petersburg, Russia, as Georgi Balanchivadze. The son of a composer, Balanchine attended the Imperial Ballet School, St. Petersburg, and performed in Russia. In 1924 he toured Europe and joined Diaghilev's Ballets Russes as a principal dancer and choreographer (1924–29). After moving to the United States (1933), he became director of ballet for the Metropolitan Opera House (1934–37) and a founder, with Lincoln Kirstein, of the School of American Ballet (1934). In 1946 the two men founded the company that would become the New York City Ballet, and in 1948 Balanchine was named its artistic director and principal choreographer.
Balanchine's more than 200 dance works include Prodigal Son (1929), Serenade (1934), Concerto Barocco (1941), Symphony in C (1947), Bourrée Fantasque (1949), Agon (1957), Seven Deadly Sins (1958), Don Quixote (1965), and Kammermusik No. 2 (1978). He choreographed for films, operas, and musicals as well, creating Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1968), his most famous theatrical piece, for the musical On Your Toes. As the major figure in mid-20th-century ballet, Balanchine established both a new Russian-American dance culture and the dynamic, inventive modern style of classical American ballet, while freeing ballet from the symmetrical and ornamental forms that had dominated since the 19th cent. Most of his works emphasize formalist patterns of pure movement rather than plot, stressing a spare and rigorous technique-based dance aesthetic. He never lost his creative instincts and continually experimented with new forms and movements, as seen in his controversial 1980 work, Schumann's Davidsbundlertanze. In 1987, after his death, two former associates founded the Balanchine Trust, an organization that maintains the integrity of his ballets by overseeing their leasing and staging.
See biographies by B Taper (rev. ed. 1984), R. Gottlieb (2004), and T. Teachout (2004); M. Ashley, Dancing for Balanchine (1984); F. Mason, ed., I Remember Balanchine (1991); R. Garis, Following Balanchine (1995); S. Schorer and R. Lee, Suki Schorer on Balanchine Technique (1999); C. M. Joseph, Stravinsky and Balanchine (2002); N. Goldner, Balanchine Variations (2008).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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