Balanchine | 15 Facts & Beyond

As part of The Master Program: Balanchine and Beyond, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will perform  George Balanchine’s opulent Theme and Variations from April 14 through 16 at the Benedum Center.

Balanchine, a Russian-born dancer/choreographer, is regarded as the most influential choreographer of classical ballet in the United States. He is often called the “Father of American Ballet” due to his influence in paving the way for ballet to flourish in America. He is credited with developing the neo-classical style distinct to the 20th century and is well-known for his modern-yet-classical, clean aesthetic.  His trademarks include lighter costumes, minimal decor, faster movements, challenging choreography and plotless ballets.  

His 1954 staging of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is probably his most famous work. It is the version best known for making the ballet an annual holiday tradition throughout the United States. It has been performed in New York City annually since 1954 and still continues its run there, as well as in nearly every city across America and throughout the World. 

George Balanchine dancing with New York City Ballet Principal dancer Patricia McBride

15 Fun Facts About George Balanchine:

  1. Balanchine is credited with creating 465 ballets, which have been performed by nearly every ballet company across the world.
  2. He choreographed his first ballet La Nuit in 1920 at the age of 16.
  3. In addition to attending the Imperial Theater Ballet School in Russia to study dance and choreography, Balanchine also enrolled at the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music and studied piano, musical theory and composition.
  4. During the Russian Revolution, he played the piano in cabarets and silent movie houses for food and drink (when money was worthless).
  5. He co-founded both the School of American Ballet (1934) and American Ballet (1935), later re-christened the New York City Ballet (1948).
  6. He served as the artistic director of the New York City Ballet from 1935 until his death, on April 30, 1983.
  7. In total, he married and divorced four times – all to ballet dancers. His first marriage began when he was 18 years old and his bride, Tamara Geva, was just 15 years old. 
  8. Known as a bit of a ladies’ man, Balanchine would give his various girlfriends different perfumes so he could distinguish who was coming down the hall.
  9. Balanchine loved to cook and in 1966 participated in a cookbook called The Ballet Cook Book with other ballet dancers and choreographers. Some of his recipes include blinis, beet borschok, “fish dinner for two” and “banana sweet.” 
  10. He discovered a love for America that extended to all aspects of the culture. He wore western shirts and string ties and delighted in American TV commercials, often weaving phrases plucked from those commercials into rehearsals. 
  11. Balanchine was proud to become an American citizen and made sure to vote at each and every election. He took jury duty so seriously that he refused to discuss any details of the cases he sat on, with even his closest friends.
  12. He worked with Claude Debussy, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Coco Chanel at various times.
  13. In addition to ballet, Balanchine choreographed Hollywood movies and Broadway musicals.
  14. A crater on Mercury was named in his honor.
  15. George Balanchine Way is a segment of West 63rd Street (located between Columbus Avenue and Broadway) in New York City that was renamed in his honor in June 1990.