“Why are you stingy with yourselves? Why are you holding back? What are you saving for—for another time? There are no other times. There is only now. Right now.” —George Balanchine
It’s a rare day at BalletMet that the name George Balanchine isn’t spoken somewhere in our studios. His legacy is a lasting one, and he’s celebrated worldwide as the father of American ballet. Here’s why:
Balanchine, or Mr. B as he was often called, was born on Jan. 22, 1904, in St. Petersburg, Russia, as Georgi Melitonovich Balanchivadze. His father was composer Meliton Balanchivadze. He began his ballet training at the age of 9 at the Imperial Ballet School, but he also made it a point to study piano and music theory, among other things, in his youth. Balanchivadze choreographed throughout his teens—his first piece, titled La Nuit, was a pas de deux with music by Anton Rubinstein.
Balanchivadze was a member of the Imperial Russian Ballet’s corps de ballet until 1924, when he and other Soviet dancers decided not to return to the Soviet Union. He went on to Paris, where Ballet Russes’ Serge Diaghilev hired him and changed his name to George Balanchine.
Balanchine was eventually promoted to ballet master at Ballet Russes and began choreographing for the company until it dissolved in 1929. He continued to create works all over Europe, eventually forming his own company, Les Ballets 1933. It was during Les Ballets’ brief existence that Balanchine met with Lincoln Kirstein, who would persuade him to come to the U.S. to establish the School of American Ballet, where he would continue to choreograph. The first piece he created in the U.S. was Serenade, set to Tchaikovsky.
Kirstein and Balanchine founded the School of American Ballet in 1934 and later, in 1946, the two created the Ballet Society, which later turned into New York City Ballet, formally established in 1948. He continued to create works, including The Nutcracker, his first full-length ballet for the company, Allegro Brillante, Stars and Stripes, and many more. Balanchine remained artistic director of NYCB until his death in 1983.