George Balanchine: The Choreographer Series

10th December 2021

George Balanchine: The Choreographer Series
Maria Hanlon

Maria Hanlon

George Balanchine sits firmly on the list of most influential choreographers of all time. We’re about to explore Balanchine’s life, work, and famous quotes in this article, let’s go!

Who Is George Balanchine?

George Balanchine was one of the leading dance figures of the 20th century and is often called ‘the father of American ballet’. He created a new style of ballet, with his company New York City Ballet, which shaped the US ballet scene forever. His innate musical talent is evident in all his works and led to a perfect partnership with composer Igor Stravinsky.

Balanchine was surrounded by music from a young age as his father was a composer. He began studying the piano at the age of 5 and following his graduation in 1921, from the Imperial Ballet School, he enrolled in the Conservatory of Music, where he studied piano and musical theory for 3 years. As a result of his extensive musical education and knowledge, Balanchine was able to effectively communicate and work alongside a composer of such stature as Igor Stravinsky.

ballerina doing up pointe shoes

When Was George Balanchine Born?

George Balanchine whose original name was Georgy Melitonovich Balanchivadze, was born on 22nd January 1904 in St. Petersburg, Russia. George passed away on 30th of April 1983 in New York and still remains one of the most influential choreographers of classical ballet during the 20th century.

ballerina on stage doing swan lake

New York City Ballet

New York City Ballet is one of the most prestigious dance companies in the world, with a roster full of exceptional dancers and an unbeatable repertoire. The company was founded by Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein in 1948 and it quickly became world-renowned for its standout style of athletic and contemporary dance. Jerome Robbins joined NYCB a year later and helped Balanchine build the incredible reputation it still has today. 

George Balanchine’s Work

George Balanchine choreographed many incredible ballets including The Nutcracker. George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker was one of the most complex theatrical, staged ballets in the New York City Ballet’s history. The popularity of the ballet was immense, and it provided an unforgettable spark to everyone’s holiday season back then and today. 

Balanchine’s choreography was not reliant on the ballerina’s skills, the plot, or the sets, but solely on dance. Balanchine believed the drama was in the dance, and movement was a reaction to the music. For Balanchine, the movement of the body alone created artistic excitement and so he placed great emphasis on balance, control, precision, and ease of movement. He rejected the traditional romantic ballet style, as well as the more acrobatic style of theatrical ballet and instead stripped his style of ballet back to the basics – motion, movement, and music. Now we’ll move on and explore more of Balanchine’s famous works.

george balanchine

How Many Ballets Did George Balanchine Choreograph?

During his lifetime, Balanchine created 465 stunning works beginning with a pas de deux in 1920 (LA NUIT) and ending with a solo, Variations for Orchestra in 1982. In between, he created an extensive body of work, ranging from the expansive ‘Symphony in C’ to such small-scale gems as ‘Pavane’. 

Though he is best known for his ballet choreography, he also worked in theatre and film. He choreographed numerous musical comedies, including ‘On Your Toes’, ‘Cabin in the Sky’, ‘Babes in Arms’, ‘Where’s Charly? Song of Norway’, ‘I Married an Angel’, ‘The Boys from Syracuse’, ‘The Merry Widow’ and ‘The Ziegfeld Follies of 1935’. Balanchine’s film credits include ‘Star Spangled Rhythm’, ‘I Was an Adventuress’ and ‘Goldwyn Follies’. 

Millions of people have been able to watch the sensational New York City Ballet on TV in their own homes, making Balanchine’s work a worldwide sensation. ‘Choreography by Balanchine’, a four-part ‘Dance in America’ presentation on the PBS series ‘Great Performances’ began in December 1977. The Four Temperaments, Tzigane, Prodigal Son, Allegro Brillante, and segments of Jewels and Ballo Della Regina were also included on the program. Balanchine traveled to Nashville with the Company for the video tapings in 1977 and 1978 and supervised every single shot, in some cases revising steps or angles to be compatible with the camera.

The series has been applauded by critics and audiences all over the country and was nominated for an Emmy. In January 1978, the New York City Ballet participated in the acclaimed PBS series ‘Live from Lincoln Center’ for the first time. Coppelia, choreographed by Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova in 1974, was seen live from the stage of the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center. This presentation also gained Balanchine an Emmy. The Company worked again with ‘Live from Lincoln Center’ eight years later, this time performing Balanchine’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.


George Balanchine Quotes

Balanchine had many words of wisdom, a few of his most famous quotes include:

“In ballet a complicated story is impossible to tell… we can’t dance synonyms.”

“God creates, I do not create. I assemble and I steal everywhere to do it – from what I see, from what the dancers can do, from what others do.”

“In my ballets, woman is first. Men are consorts. God made men to sing the praises of women. They are not equal to men: They are better.”

“One is born to be a great dancer.”

“Most ballet teachers in the United States are terrible. If they were in medicine, everyone would be poisoned.”

george balanchines the nutcracker

That’s Everything You Need To Know About George Balanchine

Take a bow! That’s everything you need to know about George Balanchine’s incredible contribution to ballet. We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Balanchine’s work with us, and if you’d like to find out more about famous choreographers, have a look at our Choreographer Series on our website.

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