As we approach the Fourth of July weekend it’s time to reflect on things in our lives that are All American. Apple pie, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, Abe Lincoln’s beard, George Balanchine… Wait… George Balanchine?
Yes, George Balanchine, the Russian born choreographer who immigrated to the US in the early 30’s and became an American citizen in 1939, is the considered the father of American ballet and therefore deserves being put in lists of quintessentially ‘Murican things alongside apple pie and bootstrap pulling.
Having grown up and trained in Russia, and found fame as a choreographer with the Ballet Russes in the 1920’s, Balanchine eventually found his way to New York City where he opened the School of American Ballet so that he could train American dancers to his high technical standards.
When Balanchine moved to the United States, he discovered a love for the country and New York City in particular 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. Stories abound of his commitment voting at each and every election, and taking jury duty so seriously that he refused to discuss any details of the cases he sat on with even his closest of friends.
His love for America came out most notably, however, in his choreography. Although a person may first conjure images of black and white leotards and avant garde music when thinking of Balanchine ballets, he also choreographed plenty of rousing, Americana based ballets. “Western Symphony” is an ode to the old west, featuring dance hall girls, cowboys in search for lost loves, and sassy cowgirls, set to classic American tunes arranged by Hershey Kay. He showed off his love for Manhattan and George Gershwin in 1970’s “Who Cares”, and the reveal of a giant American flag at the end of “Stars and Stripes” is a moment that can make even the most cynical person feel proud to be an American.
George Balanchine may not have been born in America, but his story is an All-American tale of an immigrant who comes to America, works hard, follows his passions, and finds fame and an enduring love for the country and culture. George Balanchine is every bit as American as apple pie or Abe Lincoln’s beard.