Balanchine was very successful in his Americanization of ballet. Reynolds and McCormick state that, “…the birth of the most ambitious “living museum” of dance ever launched without state support: Ballet Theatre, founded and directed by Americans, with eighty-five dancers, eleven choreographers, and an entire “wing” devoted to American works, made its debut in New York on January 11, 1940″ (266). This marks the successful creation of an American ballet company, run by Americans, with American dancers and American works. Also remarkably it was birthed without state funding unlike most European ballet companies, which is very American as well given the independent spirit of most Americans. Reynolds and McCormick further the observation about the successful Americanization of ballet saying, “In Tallchief and Le Clercq, two sides of a coin, the image of the American “Balanchine ballerina” was born” (300). Tallchief and Le Clercq were both very different dancers, but also thoroughly American. Le Clercq was trained exquisitely at Balanchine’s School of American Ballet and Tallchief had Native American heritage and grew up in America. Furthermore, these all-American ballerinas are not just called American, but referred to as “Balanchine ballerinas” showing how fundamental was Balanchine’s contribution to the Americanization of ballet. As a matter of fact, Twyla Tharp spoke of George Balanchine and Martha Graham as the “two poles that anchored [American dance] for more than fifty years” (Reynolds and McCormick 492). In Balanchine’s creation of American ballet and the company to support it, he also became an anchor of dance in America. Continuing on about Balanchine’s contribution to making American ballet, Anderson points out that, “Occasionally, he made use of specific American themes in his works. He created ballets to Sousa marches (Stars and Stripes)…” (151). Stars and Stripes is one of many ballets Balanchine created that had American themes. Cass explains that, “Stars and Stripes (1958) is set to Sousa parade marches and shows American drum majorettes and snappy cadets” (322). The men are costumed in red and blue military-looking uniforms and the women in cute short tutus with bodices that also resemble military-looking uniforms and feathers on the tops of their heads to match the color of their tutu. The costumes match the parade march, fun loving feeling of the music, as does the dancing. As Taylor states, “Balanchine’s broad sense of humor was also apparent in Stars and Stripes (1958). Remember Jacques d’Amboise doing entrechat six with a big grin, a crisp salute, and his feet fully flexed?” (88). Taylor is referring to the male lead’s solo variation; this is one of the elements of the choreography that adds humor and a fun-loving nature. Also are the parallel passes the female cast perform on pointe, the snappy salutes the dancers give each other and the way the male lead runs at the female lead then proceeds to carry her off which finishes one of their dances together. Goldner points out that, “Stars and Stripes falls into the category of Americana” (58). The theme of America is abundantly clear in this ballet, from the Sousa’s music, to the color and design of the costumes to the giant American flag that rises to fill the backdrop at the end of the piece. However, unlike other ballet choreographers of the 30s and 40s making Americana ballet, “Balanchine did not attempt to Americanize classical language with vernacular gesture” (Goldner 58). Stars and Stripes, for all its American theme elements is still very much a classical ballet. Goldner goes on to explain, “As Hershy Kay’s orchestration of Sousa turns mellow, evoking wheat stirring in the breeze, the entire cast does a revérence straight out of the halls of the Imperial theater in Russia, as if in celebration of our beautiful American landscape” (Goldner 59). The stage is filled with red and blue tutus and feathers and men in uniforms creating a very stirring moment in the dance and the revérence is extremely classical, and looks like one from a classical ballet technique class. Goldner further discussing the piece, states, “It is a traditional pas de deux in that it follows the conventional format of a formal duet succeeded by solos for each dancer and a coda. More importantly, it presents the ballerina as we know her from the nineteenth century. She is quick and delicate and precise in her footwork” (64). In this pas de deux, Balanchine really presents his Americanization of ballet, still very classical but incorporating the speed and precision he so admired in Americans. Furthermore, the dancers move in diagonals, semicircles and repeat steps and the couple performing the pas de deux greet each other and the audience before they begin dancing as occurs in classical pas de deuxs. Despite all the classical ballet elements in Stars and Stripes Goldner says that, “…during the Vietnam War…the company put the ballet into storage. The public simply couldn’t swallow its patriotic spirit” (Goldner 64-65). This says something remarkable about the American-ness of this ballet made by a Russian choreography with classical ballet. Balanchine truly had made American ballet.
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
Thanks Mom! You rock. 🙂 Happy almost Mother’s Day. xoxo