Born in Russia as Georgi Balanchivadze, Balanchine attended the Imperial Ballet School, St. Petersburg, and performed in Russia. In 1924 he toured Europe and joined Diaghilev's Ballet 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 of the School of American Ballet (1934). In 1948 he became artistic director and principal choreographer for the New York City Ballet.
Balanchine's more than 200 dance works include Serenade (1934), Concerto Barocco (1941), 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 the original Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1968) for the musical On Your Toes. As the major figure in 20th-century ballet, Balanchine established the modern style of classical American ballet and freed ballet from the symmetrical form that had dominated the 19th cent. Most of his works emphasize patterns of pure dance rather than plot. 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 two of his former associates founded the Balanchine Trust, an organization that maintains the integrity of the choreographer's work by overseeing the leasing and staging of his ballets.
See study by B. Taper (1963, rev. ed. 1984); M. Ashley, Dancing for Balanchine (1985); F. Mason, ed., I Remember Balanchine (1991); R. Garis Following Balanchine (1995).