Getting to Know Mr. B.

May 22, 2013

Celebrating Balanchine

George Balanchine

George Balanchine

George Balanchine is acclaimed the world over as one of the greatest choreographers in the history of ballet. OBT’s  Celebrating Balanchine program offers a glorious spectrum of his art. In this blog, we offer a beyond-the-ballet picture of this creative genius, known to those who worked with him as Mr. B.

Giorgi Mellitonovitch Balachivadze didn’t take to ballet right away. He began his studies at age nine, at the Czar’s Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg. He was so unhappy that he ran away. With his debut at age ten, as a cupid in the Maryinsky Theatre Ballet Company production of The Sleeping Beauty, performing won him over.

George Balanchine (right) in his  ballet school uniform, with his brother Andrei.

George Balanchine (right) in his ballet school uniform, with his brother Andrei.

Balanchine as a Cupid in The Sleeping Beauty.

Balanchine as a Cupid in The Sleeping Beauty.

Partly out of economic necessity during his early years in the United States, Balanchine made choreography for Broadway and Hollywood musicals, and for elephants in the circus. He even got his cat Mourka leaping like a dancer.

Rehearsing for The Ballet of the Elephants to Stravinsky’s Circus Polka. Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden in 1942. Photo: United Press International

Rehearsing for The Ballet of the Elephants to Stravinsky’s Circus Polka. Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden in 1942. Photo: United Press International

Mourka and Mr. B dancing at home. Photo: Martha Swope

Mourka and Mr. B dancing at home. Photo: Martha Swope

Ray Bolger, film dancer and star from the 1930s through the 1970s, wrote, “Working with Balanchine was like spinning from Juilliard to the Louvre to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts to Stillman’s Gymnasium.”

Tamara Geva and Ray Bolger dancing Balanchine’s Slaughter on 10th Avenue in the film “On Your Toes” in 1936.

Tamara Geva and Ray Bolger dancing Balanchine’s Slaughter on 10th Avenue in the film “On Your Toes” in 1936.

Mr. B was an accomplished musician. In addition to his ballet training, he studied piano, music theory, composition and harmony at the Conservatory of Music in St. Petersburg. On occasion, he composed music (Christopher Stowell used one of Balanchine’s piano pieces in his ballet Tolstoy’s Waltz), and sometimes prepared piano reductions of orchestral scores for music he intended to choreograph. He loved and respected music.

Balanchine at the piano, about 1941. Photo: Walker Evans.

Balanchine at the piano, about 1941. Photo: Walker Evans.

Balanchine married his creative muses, formally marrying and divorcing four times, and living for an extended period with another “wife.”

Balanchine with his first wife, Tamara Geva, in Russia in 1923. Photo: Courtesy of Karin von Aroldingen

Balanchine with his first wife, Tamara Geva, in Russia in 1923. Photo: Courtesy of Karin von Aroldingen

Balanchine was with Alexandra Danilova from 1926 through 1933. Here he coaches Danilova and Fredric Franklin in Danses Concertantes in 1944. Photo: A.F. Sozio

Balanchine was with Alexandra Danilova from 1926 through 1933. Here he coaches Danilova and Fredric Franklin in Danses Concertantes in 1944. Photo: A.F. Sozio

Mr. B with his second wife, Vera Zorina, on the set for “Goldwyn Follies.” They were married from 1938 to 1946. Photo: Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art/Film Stills Archive

Mr. B with his second wife, Vera Zorina, on the set for “Goldwyn Follies.” They were married from 1938 to 1946. Photo: Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art/Film Stills Archive

Balanchine with his third wife, Maria Tallchief, in costume for Le Baiser de la Fée. They were married from 1946-1952. Photo: Irving Penn

Balanchine with his third wife, Maria Tallchief, in costume for Le Baiser de la Fée. They were married from 1946-1952. Photo: Irving Penn

Mr. B rehearsing Symphony in C with Tanaquil LeClercq and Francisco Moncion. Balanchine and LeClercq were married from 1952-1969. Photo: George Platt Lynes

Mr. B rehearsing Symphony in C with Tanaquil LeClercq and Francisco Moncion. Balanchine and LeClercq were married from 1952-1969. Photo: George Platt Lynes

 Biographer Bernard Tapir wrote that, “Balanchine liked science fiction, TV westerns, French sauces and American ice creams. He wore a sort of Russianized version of a Wild West dude’s garb—bright, pearl-buttoned shirts, black string tie, gambler’s plaid vest, frontier pants. On him, these surprising outfits appeared natural and elegant.”

Balanchine with Pearl Buttons. Photo:  Martha Swope

Balanchine in one of his favorite pearl-buttoned western shirts. Photo: Martha Swope

Friend and physician Edith Langer wrote of Mr. B, “His love of cooking was famous. I sat with him once where there was a salesman for Cuisinart, who tried to give George one of these efficient machines. He was unimpressed. He explained that he enjoyed chopping. He ironed his own shirts. His joy in all the ordinary tasks of life was part of his charm.”

Each year, Balanchine prepared a lavish supper for his friends at Easter. Photo: Martha Swope

Each year, Balanchine prepared a lavish supper for his friends at Easter. Photo: Martha Swope

Edward Gorey, illustrator and cartoonist perhaps best known these days for his animated introduction to the PBS Mystery series, was an avid fan of Balanchine’s choreography. Gorey attended New York City Ballet performances with devout regularity until Mr. B’s death, then never returned.

See for yourself the depth of Mr. B and his approach to dance, music and art at Celebrating Balanchine June 14 – 16. GET TICKETS

Edward Gorey, seen here in a self-portrait, made cartoons based on Balanchine’s ballets like this one of The Four Temperaments.

Edward Gorey, seen here in a self-portrait, made cartoons based on Balanchine’s ballets like this one of The Four Temperaments below.

FourTsCartoonGorey0039

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