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George Balanchine

Famous Choreographers: George Balanchine .

Hailed as the most influential contemporary ballet choreographer of all time, George Balanchine grew up steeped in the arts. His father was a composer and encouraged Balanchine to begin playing piano at the age of five. This early experience with music was the foundation of his complex relationship with music and dance. Balanchine began his formal dance training when he was nine, enrolling in the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg. At the age of ten he made his debut, playing cupid in a production of Sleeping Beauty with the Maryinsky Theatre Ballet Company, where he later became a member of the ballet corps. After graduating Imperial Ballet School, he entered the Conservatory of Music. He studied piano and musical theory, with a focus on “composition, harmony and counterpoint” [source: NYCB].

George Balanchine remains the defining choreographer of neoclassical ballet. This style of dance is considerably less rigid than formal classical ballet. Dancers perform extremely athletic and technical moves set to more “extreme tempos” of music [source: Washington Ballet]. Balanchine’s understanding and experience with the foundations of music enabled him to envision new ways of using music in ballet. Inspired by modern dance, Balanchine fused the classical 19th-century techniques he learned at the Imperial Ballet School with the emerging free-form style of dance. He developed movements using flexed hands and feet, turned-in legs and off-centered positions. He declined the traditional uniform of ballet — the tutu — in favor of leotards and tunics. He also reduced the focus on the story in favor of abstract, unencumbered movements that showcased the dance. This isn’t to say he disregarded the narratives of ballet entirely. Rather, he found innovative ways to fuse them into movement and music [source: NYCB].

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