Russian-born dancer George Balanchine came to America in 1933, and, despite the Depression, filled a niche by developing the first serious ballet here. He established a school in 1934, and after making several ballets for Hollywood and Broadway, premiered the New... [more]
Russian-born dancer George Balanchine came to America in 1933, and, despite the Depression, filled a niche by developing the first serious ballet here. He established a school in 1934, and after making several ballets for Hollywood and Broadway, premiered the New York City Ballet in 1948. One of the first ballet companies made up largely of Americans (and even one Native American, Balanchine ballerina and third wife, Maria Tallchief), New York City Ballet was a watershed event. Balanchine had slogged through the mess of ballet as the world knew it and created a marvelous new frontier -- Modern Ballet. Balanchine loved America (he even created the ballet "Stars and Stripes"), revering American dancers as fearless thoroughbreds.
Ballet in America was independent from its contemporary, modern dance. In fact, when Balanchine came along, some of modern dance's pioneers were already old hat. But Balanchine's work was more in line with High Modernism than was most of modern dance at the time. In any case, he was certainly more in line with Modernism than the with the traditions of ballet. More importantly, he fit perfectly into the High Modernist mythos of the auteur who refines the peoples' tastes, elevating the human spirit with his undaunted vision. Even though this vision seems classical now, it was innovative at the time, as Balanchine enabled future choreographers to refuse the storybook plot. One of his more notable risks was his pairing of African American Arthur Mitchell with white Diana Adams in a racy pas de deux in "Agon" (1957), when segregation was an inflammatory issue and African Americans were unheard of in ballet. His artistic vision garnered New York City Ballet a two million-dollar grant from the Ford Foundation in 1963.
This Modernist vision endures in America and reinvents itself every so often. The gorgeous feats of ballet appeal more to American audiences than the demands of viewing Postmodern works, so ballet as a modern form is now the establishment. Occasionally, ballet comes up with a new guise, but since Balanchine, no grand new versions of itself have arrived. Dance Theater of Harlem appeared and is now established as the premiere African American ballet company. The Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the all-drag ballet, is not only hilarious, but also remarkably skilled. Ballet companies across the U.S. regularly commission works by modern choreographers. Balanchine remains the pinnacle of ballet in America, and to see his work performed well is the apotheosis of the modern. [show less]