George Balanchine and the American Ballet

“Style is a different question than content, really. Balanchine saw that with the Americans, who did not have as much of a past as the Europeans and are not burdened by habits or prejudice or biased with style.“ -Violette Verdy 

Through her interviews, Barbara Newman created a narrative portrait of the ballet world in the late 20th century. In particular, her interviews with American dancers who were trained at the School of American Ballet or danced with the New York City Ballet give readers a glimpse into the most important shift in the ballet history that occurred in the 20th century: the rise of the American ballet and the man who is credited with it, George Balanchine.

George Balanchine was a world-renowned choreographer and teacher who is recognized as the father of American ballet. Balanchine was born in St Petersburg, Russia and trained at the Imperial Ballet School. Throughout his twenties he danced in companies throughout Europe, most notably Ballet Russes where he also acted as ballet master. In 1933, he was invited to come to America by arts patron Lincoln Kirstein, who expressed a vision of an American ballet that would rival Europe in both skill and creativity.

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George Balanchine, Suzanne Farrell, Violette Verdy, Mimi Paul, Patricia McBride.

Balanchine arrived in New York in October 1933, at the age of 29. While Kirstein had intended on opening an American ballet company, Balanchine famously said, "But first, a school.” Less than three months after his arrival in America, Balanchine, with the help of Kirstein and Edward M.M. Warburg, opened the School of American Ballet. In 1948, Balanchine, Kirstein, and Jerome Robbins co-founded the New York City Ballet. Balanchine acted as principal choreographer and ballet master for the company until his death in 1983.

While Balanchine brought his Russian training to America, his school developed into something more and ballet companies across the United States embraced this style and grew to prominence. He was a prolific choreographer and teacher whose works are produced across the world and his students have continued his legacy, teaching his neo-classical techniques and style. George Balanchine embraced dance as an “independent art, not merely a secondary accompanying one,” emphasizing the importance of movement and beauty above all.

To hear more from dancers who worked with George Balanchine, browse the interviews tagged New York City Ballet.

For more information on George Balanchine please visit: The George Balanchine Foundation and New York City Ballet

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George Balanchine and Violette Verdy. Photograph by Martha Swope.

George Balanchine and the American Ballet