George Balanchine (1904–1983) was one of the most influential choreographers of the twentieth century. During his lifetime he created more than 200 ballets, choreographed nineteen Broadway shows, and produced four Hollywood films. The Russian-born ballet dancer entered the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg after he passed an impromptu audition he was attending with his sister. At first he had no interest in dance, but he was so moved by Sleeping Beauty, a ballet with music by Pytor Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893), that he decided to remain at the school. Balanchine joined the Ballets Russes in 1924. After moving to the United States in 1933, he became the director of the Metropolitan Opera House (1934–1937), the founder of the School of American Ballet (1934), and cofounder of the New York City Ballet (1948), the first American ballet company to become a public institution.
Balanchine's most famous works include Serenade (1935; music by Tchaikovsky), Apollo (1928), The Prodigal Son (1929), The Nutcracker (1954), Don Quixote (1965), and Jewels, the first full-length ballet without a plot. Balanchine's ballets often emphasized patterns of pure dance rather than plot and he helped to free the art from rigid nineteenth-century traditions.
Balanchine's rare opportunity to dance as a child encouraged him to reach out to children throughout his career. He often choreographed children's roles into many of his ballets and was known for his tours and lectures in schools. He also staged free ballets for underprivileged children, presented annual free dance seminars, and provided free advice to other ballet companies.
Further Information: Balanchine, George. Balanchine's Complete Stories. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1977; George Balanchine. [Online] Available http://www.abt.org/archives/choreographers/balanchine_g.html, October 23, 2000; "George Balanchine." Electric Library. [Online] Available http://www.encyclopedia.com/articles/01034.html, October 23, 2000; McLaughren, Geraldine. The Random House Book of Stories From the Ballet. New York: Random House, 1994.