New York City Ballet

I know that many of you assume The New York City Ballet has always been here. Nothing could be further from the truth. The NYC Ballet came into being in 1948. Like everything else in this world, a seed is planted and it goes through many stages before it flowers into full bloom. The two people that made this ballet company possible were George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein.

George Balanchine (from now on I will refer to him as "Mr. B.") was born in St. Petersburg in 1904. He trained in ballet at the Imperial School, and choreographed his first ballet at the age of 16. After his graduation he organized the "Youth Ballet". His work was considered to be too unconventional and not received by his superiors. Many of the young dancers were told that if they danced his ballets they would be expelled from the school and company. In 1924 he toured with the Soviet State Company to Germany, which was the brainstorm of Mr. B. and Vladimir Dimitriev. Dimitriev went along as their manager. Mr. B., along with Alexander Danilova, Tamara Geva (Mr. B.'s wife), and Nicholas Efimoff, auditioned for Diaghilev. The four of them stayed with Diaghilev until his death.

Mr. B. stayed afloat dancing and choreographing for anyone who would hire him. He started a small company called "Les Ballets 1933". It danced in Paris and London. The new company was not successful in London, but Mr. B. began to look for a way to get to America. At a cocktail party he met the man, Lincoln Kirstein, who was to be his benefactor until his death. Let us leave Mr. B. at this time and find out what we can about Lincoln Kirstein.

Kirstein was born in Rochester, NY in 1907, to a very wealthy Boston family, and he was educated at Harvard. He had an interest in ballet and George Balanchine since he had seen "Apollo" with the Diaghilev Ballet. He set out to get Mr. B. to America. Together with Edward M. M. Warburg (Lincoln's classmate from Harvard), they started the School of American Ballet in Hartford Connecticut in October 1933, and moved to a studio on the fourth floor of a building at Madison Avenue and 59th Street in New York City in 1934. The evening class at the school worked on a project to learn how to perform, and the father of Warburg invited this group of students to perform at a private party. The ballet they did was "Serenade", the first major ballet choreographed by Mr. B. in America. A few months later Kirstein and Warburg founded, together with Balanchine and Dimitriev, The American Ballet.

Lincoln Kirstein and Edward Warburg founded, together with Balanchine and Dimitriev, The American Ballet Company. It made its debut in Hartford Connecticut in December of 1934. The following March, 1935, the company gave its first season in NYC at the Adelphi Theatre.

In the fall of that year The American Ballet Company became the resident ballet company of the Metropolitan Opera, adding more dancers to the roster. The management of the Met and Balanchine did not see eye to eye. Mr. B. did manage to present a few evenings of ballet. He did so by using music the orchestra did not have to rehearse, such as "The Bat" based on J. Strauss' "Die Fledermaus", and an all-Stravinsky Festival.

Kirstein and Warburg started another company, Ballet Caravan, in 1936, to encourage new choreographers. Lew Christensen, Eugene Loring, William Dollar and John Taras had their beginnings with Ballet Caravan. This company gave employment to the dancers while off-season.

The affiliation with the Met ended in 1938. Balanchine choreographed 17 Broadway shows and a number of movies. The show we think of most often is "On Your Toes". He also Choreographed a ballet for the elephants for the Ringling Brothers Circus.

The American Ballet Company and Ballet Caravan joined forces on a South American tour sponsored by the US government. They were also part of the World's Fair (1939) at the Ford Pavilion. The Ford Foundation has been a big contributor of Balanchine and his endeavors. The American Ballet Company and Ballet Caravan finally disbanded in October 1941, because of World War II, just leaving the School of American Ballet. Kirstein and Balanchine could not be defeated long, and in 1946 Ballet Society emerged.

Ballet Society made its debut November 20, 1946 at the High School of Needle Trades. Lew Christensen was the ballet master. In 1948 this company was invited to become part of the New York City Center of Music and Drama as the New York City Ballet. Jerome Robbins was artistic co-director. Frequent European tours since 1950 have made NYCB one of the most important ballet companies the world over.

In 1964 the company moved to Lincoln Center, where it is still in residence. It will be interesting to see what will become of NYCB now that Lincoln Kirstein and Jerome Robbins have retired and Robert Lindgren is now president of the school. Already there have been changes with the death of Balanchine. In my opinion most of the changes have not been for the best. I feel in my bones that Robert Lindgren will be a positive force in the ballet. Robert is a Canadian-American dancer, having danced in the early days of American ballet. Lindgren was relieved of his position by Peter Martins in 1986.

The School of American Ballet moved from their Madison Avenue studios to 83rd and Broadway in 1955. In 1969 the school moved their studios again to the Juilliard building. When they vacated the Broadway space on a Friday, the New York School of Ballet moved in the following Monday and started classes. Richard Thomas and Barbara Fallis were the directors of the New York School of Ballet, and in 1975 they had the good judgment to hire Dick Andros to lead the Children's Department and teach some of the adult classes. I, Dick Andros, taught the last ballet class to be given at that very famous studio.

Ann Inglis and Janet Villella are our classmates who are past members of The New York City Ballet. We have so many students that have passed through the School of American Ballet School that I can't list them in one Newsletter.

(First published December 1995)

When everyone in the dance world knows the difference between croisé and effacé, we will have world peace.