Popular Balanchine

From 1927 to 1931, George Balanchine staged dances and musical numbers for revues, variety shows, and operettas in London and Paris as well as for one of the first feature-length talking motion pictures made in England. In the United States, from 1936 to 1954, he worked with leading figures of American musical theater to create two revues, fourteen musical comedies, four operettas, five Hollywood films, and a circus spectacle that are milestones of American popular culture. Of Balanchine’s enormous choreographic output, these popular works have received far less critical and scholarly attention than have his ballets, but we recognize today that they are an important part of his œuvre and that they are, indeed, significant works in terms of America’s cultural heritage.

On Your Toes (1936). Ray Bolger, George Church, and Tamara Geva in "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue."

To document this heritage, the George Balanchine Foundation undertook a major research initiative in 1999, realizing that it was high time to focus on Balanchine’s popular works, while some of the people involved with these productions were still alive. Nancy Reynolds, director of research for the foundation, initiated the project and engaged Claude Conyers as project director. Mr. Conyers, a retired publishing executive, formed a team of dance and theater historians and, over the course of the next five years (2000—2004), directed the research, assembly, and organization of a collection of primary source materials on Mr. Balanchine’s popular works. For an overview of productions in the project repertory, see Brief Notes on the Repertory. For the structure of the research team, see Roster of the Research Team.

Popular Balanchine was supported by grants from the Reynolds Endowment, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Billy Rose Foundation, and the Friars Foundation and by generous gifts from Lani Azenberg, Barbara Horgan, and Caroline Newhouse. Materials produced by the project constitute a unique collection of original essays, documents, printed materials, photographs, memorabilia, audio and video recordings, and transcripts of interviews with participants in a major period in the history of American musical theater.

Dossiers containing materials produced by the Popular Balanchine project were deposited in the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, where they are available for study by scholars and inspection by interested members of the general public. Cataloging information, including an overview of the project, may be accessed via the library’s website: http://catnyp.nypl.org/record=b8922107. For an overview of materials in the collection, see Guide to the Dossiers.

I Was an Adventuress (1940). Vera Zorina, the corps de ballet, and Lew Christensen in a scene set to music from Swan Lake.

Project Links:
Brief Notes on the Repertory »
Roster of the Research Team »
Guide to the Dossiers »

If you would like more information on Popular Balanchine or would like to make a contribution to this project please contact The George Balanchine Foundation.


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