The messenger logo

George Balanchine: a man with Georgian blood, Russian education and American spirit

By Salome Modebadze
Tuesday, February 3
Georgian by blood and Russian in culture, founder of modern American ballet, Giorgi Balanchivadze, known as George Balanchine, was born on January 22, 1904 in St. Petersburg, Russia.

“Being a ‘Petersburgian’ does not mean being Russian. Petersburg has always been an European, cosmopolitan city,” he used to say.

The friend of famous artists Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse, George Balanchine created art on the stage.

“Dance is a female phenomenon. Ballet is a woman. I can see music and listen to ballet,” he once said.

Balanchine firmly believed that it is impossible to sit and think about dancing. “You should stand up and dance,” he used to say, adding that otherwise one cannot see how the movements match with the music.

It was a great pleasure to have Mr. Balanchine as your master. His ballet dancers admitted how they enjoyed being part of his stage experiments.

Mr. B (as his ballet dancers called the choreographer ), always staged a dance for a particular dancer. Later he could remake the whole performance for someone else if that particular person would get ill.

It is also interesting that all four of his separate marriages to dancers ended with a new ballet.

At the beginning of his career, rebellious), was often criticized for his modern approach, as he was breaking the rules of the classical ballet, but today not every troupe has the luxury to perform the pieces from his repertoire.

Born into the family of composer Meliton Balanchivadze, Giorgi was keen on music from early childhood. This is why he loved the rhythms with pauses, where one could feel how time grows in mystery.

Balanchine, who was as good in cooking as he was in choreography, said he wanted to make ballet an independent type of art not just “a souse for other dishes.”

When he did not have rehearsals, Balanchine also enjoyed working in his garden. As authors of the book Be My Guest, Ana Saldadze and David Gigauri recollect Mr. B’s Easter preparations.

Imagine how thrilling it must have been to see the author of amazing ballets peeling carrots and chopping potatoes.

Balanchine became interested in choreography when he was 16. He never performed the main parts in ballets when he was yet a dancer. And later, when he became a choreographer, his work never featured a star, as he believed the overall performance should outshine the individual.

It was in 1923 when the young choreographer left for Europe. In his early twenties Balanchine performed concerts in Berlin, London, and Paris. He headed the Royal Ballet Theatre of Copenhagen. Later he moved to Monte-Carlo.

Mr. B’s European adventure ended in the United States of America – a country that did not have any ties with classical ballet. In 1934, Giorgi Balanchivadze, who was already known as George Balanchine established the School of American Ballet in New York now known as New York City Ballet.

His debut of Peter Tchaikovsky’s Serenade amazed the US audience with its avant-garde choreography to the classical music, which Mr. B called “dancing with the Moon.”

Today his biography unites more than 150 works, which keep maintain their modernity even after the several decades. In addition to ballet, Mr. B choreographed Hollywood movies and Broadway musicals.

George Balanchine died as the Artistic Director of the New York City Ballet on April 30, 1983.Before his death he left all his ballets to his ballerinas.

Although the Soviet regime did not allow him to stage any ballets in his homeland, the Georgian audience had an opportunity to meet him in the capital Tbilisi when Balanchine visited Georgia with his troupe a couple of times.

“I am Georgian and I will live until I am hundred years-old,” Balanchivadze would often tell his colleagues recollecting his Georgian roots in the old days….