George Balanchine, born Georgi Balantschiwadse in 1904 in St. Petersburg, was one of the most influential pioneers of neoclassical ballet. His path through life, which led him from St. Petersburg to various locations in Western Europe and finally to New York, reads like a journey through the history of dance over the last 100 years: rooted in the ballet world of tsarist Russia and strongly influenced by the aesthetic of Petipa, he joined the Ballets Russes and thus the avant-garde movement in Paris and changed his name to George Balanchine. In 1928 he created »Apollo«, his first masterpiece for Diaghilev’s dance troupe, and thus laid the foundation for his own aesthetic.
In 1933, Balanchine was invited to the United States by Lincoln Kirstein, a prominent industrialist and patron of the arts, which gave him the opportunity to focus on developing his style with dancers specially trained for that purpose. Kirstein persuaded him to become director of a new ballet school, with a view to forming his own company. The School of American Ballet opened in 1934 with an educational concept which had been specially formulated by Balanchine. From the training of dancers, which always formed the basis of his understanding of dance, Balanchine’s path led him to choreography – and what was originally intended as a kind of exercise became his first American masterpiece, »Serenade«.
Further works were to follow at the Metropolitan Opera, for Hollywood and on Broadway, and more and more new ballets were created for his company, which from 1948 onwards became known as the New York City Ballet and which was soon to become one of the world’s leading dance ensembles. In addition to many new creations, including »Concerto Barocco« (1941), »The Four Temperaments« (1946) and »Orphée« (1948), Balanchine built an extensive repertoire based on his existing works. He was able to focus on honing his aesthetic, which had one goal in particular: with the utmost clarity, to make dancing of central importance as a way of making music with the body. The incarnation of this style, and one of the most important examples of New York modernism in the 1950s, was the ballet »Agon«. Further important works were created in the following two decades with »Liebeslieder-Walzer« (1960), »Jewels« (1967), »Symphony in Three Movements« (1972), »Stravinsky Violin Concerto« (1972), »Chaconne« (1976), »Davidsbündlertänze« (1980) and »Mozartiana« (1981).
When George Balanchine died in New York on 3 May 1983, he left behind a life’s work comprising 425 ballets, many of which still form part of the repertoires of the world’s great dance companies today.