The project is the brainchild of Paul Epstein, president of the Balanchine Foundation. The focus will be on reviving ballets from the early 1950s to the 1970s, as there are still enough dancers around from that period to share their memories of the works. The resuscitated pieces will then eventually be performed, although that might be years away.
Balanchine created an estimated 425 ballets, some 75 of which remain in the repertory of the New York City Ballet and other companies today. But "so much of what Mr. Balanchine made was lost," the Times quotes Epstein as saying. "There was no video, and in the early years there weren't too many other companies who were capable of performing his work and who might have preserved them. Every year a certain number of ballets would be cast aside because the company needed the room for new works, not because there was anything wrong with them. They were put into mothballs without anyone to take them out."
The project is being led by Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, former New York City Ballet dancers who co-directed the Pacific Northwest Ballet for 28 years until they retired in 2004, reports the Times.
Barbara Horgan, Balanchine's longtime personal assistant and chairwoman of the foundation board, was initially hesitant about the project, but decided that it would be worthwhile, telling the paper, "There is an archival, academic point of view that says, 'This is important because it's Balanchine.' And it occurred to me that it would be wonderful for small, regional companies who don't have enough dancers for a 'Symphony in C,' or can't afford to stage it, to get these pieces, even if they were fragments."
This is not the foundation's first attempt to preserve the memories of former Balanchine dancers; dance historian Nancy Reynolds has been assembling an archive of videotapes of dancers coaching others in roles that Balanchine had created for them.