January 22 – Happy Birthday, George Balanchine

Posted on January 22, 2014

George Balanchine is sometimes called the Father of American Ballet. One of the world's most famous choreographers (someone who plans and arranges dance movements), he co-founded the New York City Ballet and was its balletmaster for more than 35 years!

He was not, however, from NYC or even America. Balanchine was born in Saint Petersburg, in the Russian Empire, on this date in 1904. And his name when he was born was Giorgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze.

His father's family were from Georgia (but not the peachy American state Georgia; rather the Eastern European country Georgia), and they included artists, soldiers, and an opera singer/composer who had helped to create the Tbilisi Ballet Theatre. His mother was Russian and was very fond of the ballet. She was not from high society like her husband, and she thought of ballet as a way to be more cultured and highbrow. She insisted that her 9-year-old son Giorgi audition with his sister for ballet, even though he wasn't all that interested in ballet.

Based on that audition, Balanchine was put into the Imperial Ballet School!

When the Bolsheviks revolted against the Russian czar and took over the government, they closed down the Imperial Ballet School. Balanchine played piano for food, in order to survive. Eventually the school was reopened, Balanchine graduated, and he began to work as a dancer. He also enrolled in a conservatory where he studied music.

George Balanchine got married very young—just 19 years old!—to an even-younger woman, who was just 16 years old. She was also a dancer. (Eventually Balanchine married and divorced five times—always to one of his dancers!) The two took advantage of being outside of the restrictive Soviet Union, on a dance tour with the Soviet State Dancers, to flee to Paris and freedom.

Balanchine had done some choreography even at a young age, so when he had to reduce his dancing because of a knee injury, he turned to choreography in Paris and Monte Carlo. Then he was persuaded by a patron of the arts named Lincoln Kirstein to relocate to America to start a ballet company.

And that's how a Georgian-Russian boy became the Father of American Ballet!

I LOVE Balanchine's Nutcracker

Balanchine's production of Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker is one of the most famous versions of a famous ballet. Watch this short video on how kids train to be a part of that show!

Also on this date:

Answer Your Cat's Questions Day 

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