George Balanchine: Life After Ballets Russes.

Posted by on 08.26.2010

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

After Diaghilev’s death, Balanchine was off to Paris.  He had been recruited to set a new two-act ballet for the Paris Opera. It was implied that if he was successful in this venture, he would soon fill the position of the company’s maitre de ballet.  Shortly after beginning work on this new project, Mr. B became very ill and was unable to finish his work, which had been dubbed Les Creatures de Promethee. He was checked into a hospital in the French Alps and would remain there for three months.  Despite all odds, he made a full recovery.  Later in life he was quoted as saying, “You know, I am really a dead man.  I was supposed to die and I didn’t, and now everything I do is second chance.”

After losing his chance at a position in the Paris Opera, Balanchine took off for Copenhagen where he would work as a guest ballet master with the Royal Danes.  The Royal Danes were looking for some new works to premier, but in the end, George’s work was simply too new.  The only Balanchine work they liked was his Apollo. While working with the company Mr. B wrote a letter to a friend: “The people here are shit.  Nobody understands anything.  Their heads are empty unless they see something resembling a sandwich.”  With that, we can assume that he was less than enthusiastic about the Royal Danes.

During this time, Ballets Russes members were trying to put the company back together after Diaghilev’s passing.  The company took on a new name, “Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo” and a new director, Rene Blum. In 1932 Blum invited Balanchine to return to his former company under the title of guest maitre de ballet. Balanchine was ready to leave the Royal Danes and accepted Blum’s invitation. However, he brought with him his three recent Paris discoveries, his so-called “baby ballerinas”: Tamara Toumanova, Irina Baronova, and Tatiana Riabouchinska (pictured on the left).  These girls were between the age of 12 and 15 and would go on to become a few of the most well known ballet dancers in the West.

Balanchine only spent a few months with the company in Monte Carlo.  He created ballets for twenty operas and two ballets that would eventually end up on the list of his “lost” ballets.  La Concurrence was a lighthearted ballet with colorful costumes and would receive rave reviews. Cotillon took place in a ball setting with an erie atmosphere, which some have suggested to be very similar to his 1951’s La Valse.

After Monte Carlo, Balanchine returned to Paris with Boris Kochno, another choreographer who had worked with Diaghilev at the same time Mr. B had.  Balanchine and Kochno came in contact with the young and rich, Edward Jones who was looking to create a ballet company to present to his wife as a gift.  With Mr. Jones’ help, Les Ballets 1933 was created.  Six ballets were created for Les Ballets 1933, among them were Les Sept Peches Capitaux (The Seven Deadly Sins) and Mozartiana.  Mozartiana was created for Toumanova and would prove to be her break-out role.

The company did not do very well and would dissolve within months, along with Mr. Jones’ marriage.  However, fate stepped in to save Balanchine.  A young American named Lincoln Kirstein, would come to his rescue.  Kirstein would not only change Balanchine’s life forever, but together, they would change America forever.


Earlier George Balanchine Series posts:

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the great post!

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