George Balanchine is widely regarded as one of the greatest dance innovators of the twentieth century. His ballets mostly stand out because of their brilliant architectonical composition of choreographic patterns and dance themes. His works are as innovative, inventive and timeless as paintings by Pablo Picasso or compositions by Igor Stravinsky, for example.
Balanchine was born in St. Petersburg in 1904, as Georgi Melitonovitsj Balantsjivadze. He trained at the famous school of the Mariinsky Ballet, which allowed him to draw inspiration from the rich movement collection of the French-Russian Marius Petipa, the most important choreographer of the nineteenth century. Balanchine was also inspired by twentieth-century experimental art, such as that within the constructivism movement, which came up along with the Russian Revolution. For example, in 1921, when he was still a beginning choreographer, he was cofounder of the avant-gardist company Young Ballet, which was dedicated to constructivist form experiments.
In 1924, Balanchine fled Russia, during a tour programme in Germany. He ended up under the wings of impresario Sergej Diaghilev, who revolutionised the theatre and dance world with his legendary Les Ballets Russes. After Les Balletts Russes had fallen apart, Balanchine toured through Europe for several years, until the American art connoisseur Lincoln Kirstein invited him to come to New York. Together they founded the School of American Ballet and a company that was renamed as New York City Ballet in 1957 and soon became one of the most famous ballet companies in the world. Life in America was an important source of inspiration for Balanchine in his innovation of the academic ballet. Broadway, Hollywood, popular music: the dynamics and energy of the American culture have had a major impact on his work.
Kirstein and Balanchine remained general director and artistic director (although Balanchine preferred the title ballet master) of the New York City Ballet until Balanchine’s death in 1983. Balanchine’s productivity was unmatched: he has created over 400 ballets and choreographies for films, operas, revues and musicals.