George Balanchine was born Georgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze on January 22, 1904, in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he was admitted in 1913 to the ballet section of St. Petersburg’s Imperial Theatre School. He was an eager student, but he graduated into an uncertain world changed by the Russian Revolution. After leaving Russia with three other dancers in 1924, Balanchine was hired by Serge Diaghilev, director of the famous Ballets Russes in Paris. At Diaghilev’s request, he changed his name to George Balanchine for ease of pronunciation.
Balanchine worked in Europe until 1933, when he was approached by American arts patron Lincoln Kirstein about forming a serious ballet company in America. They formed the company that eventually became New York City Ballet, where Balanchine remained as artistic director for the rest of his life.
Balanchine’s choreography blends the classical with the modern and is intensely musical, reflecting his early interest in becoming a composer. Realizing, however, that his strength lay in choreography, he chose as a young man to focus on dance. Balanchine created more than 200 ballets as well as numerous dances for theater and film, and he made the New York City Ballet into one of the finest companies in the world. Balanchine created an American style of classical ballet, one that reflected the accelerating speed of life in 20th-century American cities like New York.
Balanchine’s collaborations with composer Igor Stravinsky resulted in Orpheus (1948), Agon (1957), and other brilliant works. Some of the master’s other ballets include his own distinctive version of the holiday classic, The Nutcracker (1954); Symphony in C (1947); The Four Temperaments (1946); and Serenade (1935), the first ballet he created in the United States and the first important work of ballet ever made for American dancers.
Balanchine died in New York City on April 30, 1983. He is remembered as a brilliant choreographic artist who was idolized by many of the most famous dancers of his era.