The following is an essay I wrote for my last semester of college. Enjoy!
George Balanchine: a Russian or an American?
Dance in every country is a bit different due in part to the culture of the country and its history and the same thing is true for styles of ballet. Each country teaches and performs a slightly different style of ballet. George Balanchine has a marvelous quote about this as a part of an article titled, “Mr. B Talks About Ballet” which was published in the June 11, 1965 issue of Life magazine. Balanchine says:
The dancers here have exceptional bodies. You choose them as you would choose horses. There are a lot of horses in the U.S. and when you choose them to run, some are faster and better…The English feel they have a fantastic company too. They are beautifully trained but they prefer lyricism to energy. I like large and energetic movements. It’s a little like a sneeze; in Russia I learned to sneeze and make a lot of noise doing it. The English are too polite to really finish the sneeze. The French are very talented people, very musical. But the really important thing to them is a good meal. It’s difficult to dance after eating a big, wonderful meal. In Italy, because of the opera, they don’t treat dancers very well. The opera is always first, symphony second, third the directors, stagehands, chorus. Last of all the lousy dancers. Russia is different. Ballet has a very high priority and they are proud of it. Russia has lots of energy; that’s the way I am. They dance the way I teach. (qtd. in Gottlieb 202-203)
In the above quote, Balanchine explains in a comical way the different types of ballet in different countries and how they relate to their cultures. Russia had a rich history in ballet, greatly expanded by Marius Petipa who died a few years after Balanchine was born. Petipa really developed what came to be known as classical ballet and many of the ballets he choreographed make up the classical cannon. Pointe shoes were a new thing in his lifetime and he developed the way pointe shoes were used in ballet, having his dancers piqué up onto the tips of their toes (From Petipa to Balanchine: Works & process at the Guggenheim). In comparison, America did not have its own ballet style before Balanchine. The only ballet that had been seen in America was touring artists from Europe. George Balanchine created a new genre of dance, neoclassical ballet, by combining his Russian training with the American environment in which he worked and in the end birthed American ballet.