George Balanchine

One of the most celebrated and distinguished choreographers in the history of ballet.
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Artist Biography

b. Georgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze, 9 January 1904, St. Petersburg, Russia, d. 30 April 1983, New York, USA. One of the most celebrated and distinguished choreographers in the history of ballet, Balanchine also revolutionized the art of dance in the Broadway musical theatre. When he was nine, he passed an audition for the Imperial School of Ballet in St. Petersburg, and it was there that he made his first attempts at choreography. After graduating, he joined the Maryinski corps de ballet, and in 1924 defected to the west while on a tour of Europe with the Soviet State Dancers. Two years later, he sustained a knee injury that curtailed his dancing career. In 1925 he was named principal choreographer with the Ballet Russes, but when that folded Balanchine took a series of jobs, of which the most interesting and unusual was arranging the dances for a series of London revues: Wake Up And Dream! (1929) andCochran’s Revue (1930 and 1931). In 1933, Balanchine moved to the USA and founded the School of American Ballet, and later, the New York Ballet Company. When the former disbanded, he turned his attention to Broadway. In 1936, after collaborating with Robert Alton on the dance sequences for the Ziegfeld Follies, he caused quite a stir with his choreography for the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart show On Your Toes. It was the first time that ballet had been utilized as a fundamental element in the story of a musical, and was particularly effective in the ‘Slaughter On Tenth Avenue’ sequence, which was danced by Tamara Geva and Ray Bolger. In the London production, Geva’s part was taken by Vera Zorina, the second of Balanchine’s four wives. Another revolutionary move in On Your Toes was Balanchine’s abandonment of the traditional chorus line, giving the ensemble a far more important role. He continued to bring his innovative ideas to the musical theatre in shows such as Babes In Arms (1937), I Married An Angel (1938), The Boys From Syracuse (1938), Keep Off The Grass (1940), Louisiana Purchase (1940), Cabin In The Sky (1940, also co-directed with Albert Lewis), The Lady Comes Across (1942), Rosalinda (1942), What’s Up? (1943, also directed), Dream With Music (1944), Song Of Norway (1944), Mr. Strauss Goes To Boston (1945), The Chocolate Soldier (1947 revival), Where’s Charley? (1948), Courtin’ Time (1951), and the 1954 revival of On Your Toes. Balanchine also worked in Hollywood on the films The Goldwyn Follies (1938), On Your Toes (1938), I Was An Adventuress (1940) and Star Spangled Rhythm (1943). During and after his Broadway period, he continued to create the most original ballets for the classical theatre, held a number of prestigious positions, and founded, with Lincoln Kirstein, the Ballet Society (1946), later renamed the New York City Ballet. He subsequently served as its Artistic Director and Director Emeritus. His honours included the Handel Medallion for Cultural Achievement, New York, 1970, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1983.