Balanchine, Broadway and Beyond

On the evening of October 8th Dancers over 40, a non-profit organization that honors the lives and legacies of the dance community, hosted “Balanchine, Broadway and Beyond” at St. Luke’s Theatre on 46th Street.  The underground theater was filled with dance legends in their own rites, including Donna McKechnie and Arthur Mitchell.  The evening was comprised of rare film clips of Balanchine and his work as well as panel discussions with some of Balanchine’s featured dancers:

  • Merrill Ashley
  • Vida Brown
  • John Clifford
  • Gene Gavin
  • Allegra Kent
  • Frank Ohman
  • Barbara Milberg-Fisher
  • Bettijane Sills
  • Carol Summer
  • Barbara Walczak
  • Patricia Wilde
  • Marge Champion

The panel of esteemed dancers all referred to Balanchine as “Mr. B.” and talked of many occasions where he would come up with choreography on the spot – a true mark of his artistic brilliance.  In the composition process, choreography changed quite a bit.  Balanchine would make up the movement, but it was your (the dancer’s job) to remember all of it!

Everyone on the panel spoke so highly of Mr. B. while reminiscing their dance performances of yore.  When constructing a new solo piece, Balanchine would highlight a dancer’s technical strengths and affinities but add some challenging steps as well.  Merrill Ashley described how this “was meant to ‘show us off’ while giving us all a little prod to work harder.”

George Balanchine was a Russian-born choreographer who is regarded as the most influential contemporary ballet choreographers of all time.  Balanchine’s father was a Georgian composer, and young Balanchine studied music and composition during his early years.  This passion for music clearly translated to his ballet career for which he brilliantly united the dance and the music as “one.”

[Balanchine] emphasized balance, control, precision, and ease of movement. He rejected the traditional sweet style of romantic ballet, as well as the more acrobatic style of theatrical ballet, in favor of a neoclassic style stripped to its essentials – motion, movement, and music. His dancers became precision instruments of the choreographer, whose ideas and designs came from the music itself. – Gale Encyclopedia

Balanchine choreographed nearly 400 ballets, 20 Broadway shows, and 5 Hollywood films.   Balanchine notably founded the New York City Ballet in 1948.

Some of Balanchine’s most memorable works include:

“We must first realize that dancing is an absolutely independent art, not merely a secondary accompanying one. I believe that it is one of the great arts. . . . The important thing in ballet is the movement itself. A ballet may contain a story, but the visual spectacle . . . is the essential element. The choreographer and the dancer must remember that they reach the audience through the eye. It’s the illusion created which convinces the audience, much as it is with the work of a magician.” – George Balanchine

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