Books on the Arts: Robert Gottlieb's George Balanchine: The Ballet Maker and Terry Teachout's All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine

Classic Arts News   Books on the Arts: Robert Gottlieb's George Balanchine: The Ballet Maker and Terry Teachout's All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine
 
Two books about the life and works of George Balanchine, America's pre-eminent 20th-century choreographer, were released in November.

Both Robert Gottlieb's George Balanchine: The Ballet Maker and Terry Teachout's All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine cover the elements of Balanchine's biography: how as a child in St. Petersburg he enrolled in ballet school when applied too late to the naval academy; his involvement with Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, where he began as a dancer and emerged a ballet master; the meeting with arts patron Lincoln Kirstein that changed the course of his life, and the course of ballet in America.

Kirstein's idea was to establish an American ballet company, with an identity separate from the dominating idea of European ballet. On the strength of this idea, Balanchine came to New York in 1933, first to begin the School of American Ballet and then to establish their first company, called the American Ballet. In 1948, Kirstein and Balanchine established the New York City Ballet, where the choreographer would remain ballet master until his death in 1984.

Among the masterpieces that Balanchine created for this new American dance company were The Four Temperaments, Apollo, and Concerto Barocco: as well as the works created with the composer Igor Stravinsky: Orpheus, Agon, Jewels, and Firebird.

Balanchine was associated with some of the great female dancers of the century, those he married (Tanaquil Le Clercq, Vera Zorina, and Maria Tallchief) and those he didn't (Patricia McBride, Allegra Kent, and Suzanne Farrell, with whom he had a terrible falling-out after she married).

According to reviews of the two books. Gottlieb, who was professionally associated with Balanchine, and who served on the board of the New York City Ballet during his tenure, has written more of an insider's account; Teachout has the benefit of being an independent chronicler and observer. Both are written for readers without a great deal of dance knowledge, but with curiosity about and love for ballet.

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