In the discussing of George Balanchine’s creation of neoclassical ballet, it is important to first understand what is meant by the term, neoclassical. Joan Cass in Dancing Through History, speaks of, “…the neo part in neoclassic: restrained, sculptured lines, with bent, straightforward (rather than turned-out) limbs”  (178).  The use of the terms restrained, sculptured lines, and bent, straightforward limbs describes modern dance much more than ballet.  Given the fact that modern dance is a newer dance form than classical ballet and modern is a synonym for new, it is appropriate to call the elements of Balanchine’s ballet that are modern, neo.  Then taking the second part of neoclassical, “The classic part was the use of strict, sharp, brilliant steps in the academic tradition of Petipa, one that Balanchine had absorbed and loved at the St. Petersburg Ballet School from which he graduated in 1921″ (Cass 178). Indeed, the classic second part of the word neoclassic is just as it seems, a reference to Balanchine’s classical training in Russia where Petipa created much of the classical cannon of ballet.  Balanchine has a further connection to modern dance in that, “Balanchine’s neoclassicism is akin to post-modernism with its explorational qualities and its eschewal of sentimental facial expressions” (Taylor 88). Like post-modernism, Balanchine in the dances he creates is exploring what dance is; pushing the limits of what is physically possible for his dancers, the degree of connection to the music or generally the idea of a piece.  Balanchine has famously told his dancers to not have facial expressions or tell the story of the ballet with their faces, he wants the movement alone to tell the “story” of the dance, he felt that was all the expression that was needed.  Sally Bane in Terpsichore in Sneakers Post-Modern Dance, furthers the idea of post-modernism and Balanchine’s work stating that:

Originally reacting against the expressionism of modern dance, which anchored movement to a literary idea or musical form, the post-modernists propose (as do Cunningham and Balanchine) that the formal qualities of dance might be reason enough for choreography, and that the purpose of making dances might be simply to make a framework with which we look at movement for its own sake (15).

Balanchine’s concept that dance was reason enough for the existence of a dance was very neo and different than the dance that had been made before him, the classics.  In Taylor’s article, “Dancing Balanchine”, he points out that, “As Hayden put it, “Balanchine’s concept of theater is mind boggling and still way ahead of its time. All contemporary choreography is influenced by his creativity”” (88). Timeline speaking, Balanchine came before Cunningham and the post modernists and therefore one could say he influenced them about choreography and views about what is dance.  Furthermore, “Balanchine once told [Hayden], ‘When you are young you do the steps. When you are more experienced you dance the movement’” (Taylor 88). Balanchine realized that the expressive quality of the dance goes beyond the steps of the dance and is in fact the dance itself as a whole, the whole is greater than the pieces.  Moreover, in comparison to:

Picasso, Joyce, Stein, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Ionesco, Beckett, all fractionalized the image – the wholeness – of conventional structures to express a different reality. Balanchine, while retaining, unlike the others, the underpinnings of his medium – the classical canon – like them stripped away traditional contexts to reveal that his reality of dance was dance… (Reynolds and McCormick 529)

For all the neo elements Balanchine inserted into his choreography, the roots are still in classical ballet, the form that Balanchine created after all is called neoclassical, both classical and new.


2 thoughts on “George Balanchine

  1. Your are such a good writer! I sent this post with 2 others of your last ones to Grandma Jensen with her Mothers Day gift. Have a wonderful day!! Much love, Mom

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