Balanchine’s prolific body of work is incredibly diverse. His ballets are often described as neoclassical; the costumes, sets, and plots prominent in the Romantic and classical ballets of the 19th century are stripped away, allowing the audience to focus on the movement. His style is described as fast, syncopated, and highly musical and he often incorporated gymnastics and jazz elements as well as intricate, innovative partnering in his ballets. Balanchine also choreographed many beloved narrative ballets, including Prodigal Son, Coppélia, Firebird, and The Nutcracker.
Music was Balanchine’s creative through line. The son of a composer, Balanchine studied piano as a child and musical theory in his teens. With an early knowledge that far exceeded most of his fellow choreographers, Balanchine’s extensive training enabled him to communicate well with composers of such stature as Stravinsky and Prokofiev. One of Balanchine’s most famous utterances was “See the music, hear the dance,” and every dancer who worked with him emphasized the musicality of his choreography.
BALANCHINE AND BOSTON BALLET
In addition to founding New York City Ballet, Balanchine also played a vital role in Boston Ballet‘s history.
Like Balanchine, Boston Ballet founder E. VIRGINIA WILLIAMS fell in love with dance at a young age. She began teaching at 16 years old when her instructor needed a substitute. From then on she never stopped, opening dance studios across Massachusetts including the Boston School of Ballet in the Back Bay.
Williams founded New England Civic Ballet in 1958, a pre-professional company that incorporated many of her students from the Boston School of Ballet. After Balanchine saw them perform at two regional festivals, he and Williams developed a collegial relationship. He invited Williams to New York to observe his company’s rehearsals, study his teaching methods, and bring her students to train with him at the School of American Ballet.
In the 1960s, Balanchine served as an artistic advisor to Williams’ young company, and upon his recommendation, it was one of seven regional ballet companies to receive a grant of $144,000 from the Ford Foundation. This grant made the establishment of a professional company possible, and in 1963, Boston Ballet was born.
A LASTING LEGACY
Balanchine visited Boston Ballet to stage Scotch Symphony on the newly formed company in 1963, and several of his other works were quickly added to the Company’s repertoire, including, among others, Allegro Brillante, Apollo, and Prodigal Son. Since then, Boston Ballet has performed 39 works by Balanchine and continues to add works from his repertoire nearly every season.
Balanchine’s legacy also lives on in the dancers he taught during his distinguished career. Many of Boston Ballet’s artistic staff and Boston Ballet School faculty danced with NYCB, and former Balanchine-trained dancers visit Boston Ballet to set his works on the dancers here.