George Balanchine: Ballet In Russia.

Posted by on 08.16.2010

Get the book I am reading: “George Balanchine The Ballet Maker” by Robert Gottlieb.

Balanchine was born Giorgi Balanchivadze in 1904 in St. Petersburg, Russia. His parents wanted him to enter into the Imperial Naval Academy as a child, but his late admission was not accepted, so he applied for the Imperial School of Ballet and Theater, and was subsequently accepted. To supplement his dance education, George also learned to play the piano and would go on to play many other musical instruments, including the violin, French horn, drums, and trumpet. One can assume that this interest in music greatly influenced the musicality of his choreography. Balanchine did not grow found of ballet immediately. During his second year in school, he performed the part of “Cupid” in Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty. He remembers falling in love with ballet, specifically the performance aspect, while on stage during this magnificent ballet.

In 1917 Balanchine’s ballet education would be interrupted by two historical events: World War I and the Russian Revolution. Mr. and Mrs. Balanchivadze fled to Tiflis, now Tbilsi, leaving George him with his Aunt in St. Petersburg. At the young age of 14, George had seen his parents for the last time. Times were desperate. People were scrounging for food and work. The ballet was closed for years while people desperately tried to stay alive. George would play the piano in clubs at night in exchange for a few pieces of bread. He also suffered many illnesses during this time, but never gave up.

When the ballet finally re-opened, there was no heat in the theater. The water in the pipes froze causing the pipes to explode, leaving ice in the sinks. The audience was bundled up in their seats, the Corps de Ballet dancers wore long shirts under their costumes, and the Principal dancers all got pneumonia. (And we thought we had it rough performing in 45-degree weather outside in Vail, Colorado last summer!) George would continue to dance, but did not resist his urge to create.

George’s friends were all aware of his talent for choreography. Around 1923, when he was 19, fellow dancers and wife Tamara Geva, would come together with various young musicians and artists, to form a small company known as the Young Ballet. This would prove to become Balanchine’s outlet where he would create his first masterpieces and grow as a choreographer. In time this group would receive funding enabling them to leave Russia and start a new chapter in their lives; both personally and professionally.

Earlier Balanchine Posts: What Would Balanchine Think?

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