Today is George Balanchine’s birthday. Thank you to Toni Bentley for reminding me with her sweet email and link to the beautiful video below:
I am so happy to find someone else who a) celebrates Mr. B’s bday and b) writes about dance! I can’t believe that I’m just now stumbling upon your blog (I found it via dance bloggers) Thanks for sharing the New York news, I miss the big apple! Best wishes from Jess at ‘Bodies Never Lie’
That is a very cute title, Tonya.
I am finishing up Vera Zorina’s autobiography and it features wonderful things about Balanchine in it. She was his #2 wife after Tamara Geva (of course Danilova was also in there).
I’ve been listening to Tchaikovsky’s magnificent “Serenade for Strings” and I thought I would share some info on Mr. B.
When on tour with the Zurich Ballet in Genoa, I had a short conversation backstage one night with Andre Presser, the conductor (very well known, btw) of the ballet. We were talking about Serenade, and I noticed that the last two movements were actually out of order, as written. The fourth is played third, and the third movement, the Elegie, is played last, in the ballet.
I found this odd because Mr. B. was always known to be very much a musical purist, wanting all his ballets to be danced to “concert tempo”, and did not tinker with composers who’s concert work he greatly admired.
The Maestro then told me that for practical reasons, Balanchine had indeed created the ballet with the 3rd and 4th movements switched, and had originally intended to switch them back and do some restaging after the ballet was first created. But, it became such a big hit right away he felt he couldn’t mess with it in such a major way without ruining whatever alchemy that caused it to be so successful in the first place!
So there you have it. For a dancer, this may not be any big thing. But for a musician, switching the movements of a hugely famous piece of work is a very big deal. Kind of like doing the 4th act of “Sleeping Beauty” right after the first.
I found all of this fascinating because as well as being a dancer, I was a pretty good voilinist in my day!
And, with all that is written about Mr. B., I thought this may be a piece of info that not everybody already knows.
Very interesting about Serenade, Jeff! I didn’t know that. You are always such a fantastic source of information!
Thanks, Tonya. I’m glad I can contribute! Also, I really want you to check out Gelsey in Theme and Variations (on You Tube) before someone takes it down. It’s the whole thing, at the height of her powers, in 78′. There’s even an interview with her after. I can’t believe after all these years I finally got to see her dance it.
Thanks Jeff! Yes, that video is also in the NY Public Library of the Performing Arts. My friend who loves Gelsey took me there and we watched (you have to watch it there; you can’t check it out). She had such a tremendous stage presence. As for Baryshnikov, I know this sounds ridiculous, but I’ve never been able to figure out what exactly it was about him that drove everyone wild. He’s really cute and his personality shone through and of course he was a superb dancer. And I guess the Russian accent didn’t hurt. But I honestly like some of ABT’s current dancers better, like Marcelo Gomes and Jose Carreno (before he retired). They seem to have just as much personality and good looks and in some instances even more bravado in their dancing. Just thinking of how Marcelo danced Theme and Variations… I liked his performance better than Baryshnikov’s.
Finally! Someone else who doesn’t think Misha is The God of Dance. That title for me will always belong to Gelsey, period. My dream pairing was always Gelsey and Fernando Bujones in pretty much anything.
Anyway, in answer to your question. I saw an interview with him a few years ago where he made an interesting comment. He said that he had a complete business plan mapped out of what he wanted to do when he defected. This led me to believe his decision was less about artistic freedom, and more about plain ol’ getting ahead in business.
To that end, he used every tool at his disposal. His exotic appeal at being a russian defector, the hottest dancer as his partner, the hottest choreographer, and especially making the movie “The Turning Point”. He really used the media of the time to his advantage. What I’m saying is, in my opinion, he had a much bigger hand in his own media than he ever let on.
He and his handlers really knew what they were doing. They knew how to “handle” the competition, and they really took advantage of what we now call “trending”.
That was an advantage that other dancers simply did not have at the time.
And for people who complain, hey, all’s fair in love and business!
A couple of things I forgot about Misha’s defection. While he wasn’t afraid for his life like Nureyev was, he has been quoted as the former Soviet empire a simply “miserable place to live”, with no upward mobility available at the time.
That, coupled with the fact the he had gone as far as he could go within the Soviet ballet system. He was never really considered a “leading man” type, and so didn’t get the casting and performance opportunities that he felt he should have, despite his brilliance as a dancer.
This, I believe led to his formation of his “plan” to escape, and find more lucrative and artistic opportunities.
Thanks for the video, Tonya. And happy belated B’day, Mr. B.!
You know, I just thought of something when watching that video. Every ballerina I’ve ever seen or read in interview who danced for Balanchine always claims that the particular time she danced for him was the “height of his creativity and output”. It doesn’t matter what decade it was, it was always “the best”. Lol!
I love it. I hope ballerinas never ever change.
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