Souritz and Schüller consulted the newspapers Krasnaya gazeta and Zhizn ’
iskusstva and several periodicals. The weekly publication of the Petrograd/Leningrad Academic Theaters gave news of
Balanchine’s appearances at the State Theater of Opera and Ballet (formerly Maryinsky), of which he became a member in
June 1921, and also recounted school activities. Balanchine’s April 1921 diploma was signed by Vaganova, Gerdt, Leontiev,
Ponomariev, Chekreguin, and Shiraev, among others, and possibly as early as 1922 his choreography was danced at school
graduation performances. At the State Theater his most celebrated role was as soloist in the Trepak from The Nutcracker
(perhaps first danced on March 26, 1922); Balanchine reproduced Ivanov’s choreography exactly for this dance in his 1954
version of the ballet for the New York City Ballet. He was considered a member of the company until September 1, 1924, when he
was fired, although he had sailed for the East Prussian port of Stettin three months earlier, never to return. The Soviet press
tracked the Russian State Ballet during its travels through Germany, often featuring Danilova, who was the most accomplished of
the four dancers--and it was even reported, long after its dancers had officially been ‘released ’ by the State
Theater, that the group’s success had resulted in an invitation to London.
No programs were found for Balanchine
’s experimental company the Young Ballet (ca. 1923-1924), but research in newspapers brought to light several concert
numbers not mentioned either by Taper or Slonimsky, set to the music of Kreisler, Anton Rubinstein, and Rachmaninoff, among
others. These were often performed in nightclubs and outdoor theaters, or sometimes on platforms in public gardens. Balanchine
was occasionally the pianist.
According to Pëtr Gusev, a member of the Young Ballet, who was interviewed by Poel
Karp in Leningrad in 1981, Balanchine and Geva danced at the Hôtel de l’ Europe on the same program with Nikolai
Foregger and several other acts. Gusev said Balanchine’s early pas de deux should really be referred to as duets, and that
he was already using bridges and ‘ non-classical’ formations. Lopukhov was a great champion of Balanchine’s
work: ‘To his face,’ said Gusev, ‘Lopukhov spoke very sternly with Balanchine; not seldom he reproached him
for incoherence, lack of selectiveness, and for putting in too much. But behind his back he said, 'Keep quiet; such a
choreographer has not been seen since Fokine.' Although Balanchine admired Lopukhov’s movement vocabulary, he
did not like his complicated philosophical symbolism. And while at the time it was fashionable to criticize Petipa, Balanchine
had a different opinion. He always said 'We cannot reach Petipa.’ Foregger, with his machine dances and agit-prop
presentations, they considered nonsense; they were also horrified by Isadora Duncan.
Neither Balanchine at this young
age nor his little company went unremarked by the critics. An unsigned article in Krasnaya gazeta (Leningrad, May 20,
1924), notes that Fokine is not the only one ‘searching for new paths and styles in ballet ’; it mentions
Goleizovsky, Lukin, Lopukhov, and Balanchivadze, who was twenty years old at the time. In the same article, Balanchine’s
foxtrot is characterized as ‘close to Suprematism. ’ Souritz commented, ‘Foxtrots were used very often--by
Meyerhold, by choreographers--as a satire against the bourgeois society.’ It is probable that Balanchine choreographed
more than one. In Zhizn’iskusstva (May 27, 1924), A. Voyesev welcomes the Young Ballet as ‘a new touch to
classical ballet, ’ then warns Balanchine against ‘Moscow ’s decadence’ (presumably a reference
to Foregger’s homosexuality).
The Catalogue of Works presented much of this material in English
for the first time. When Gunhild Schüller and Nancy Reynolds interviewed Balanchine using Schüller’s notes from
Russia, he was most responsive and seemed very excited that things long forgotten had been dredged up from the past. The two
then talked to Danilova, posing the same questions: thus, the early Russian information came not only from combing the written
sources, but also from talking with three of the people who had been part of that world. Danilova, who was associated with
Balanchine off and on from their childhood until his death, also spoke of his unrealized idea while still in Russia for a major
work to Scriabin, which Gusev confirmed.
Published information about individual works was augmented by discussions with
dancers and scholars. Tatiana Leskova was interviewed about Balustrade, Marie-Jeanne about Sentimental Colloquy (a
ballet featuring a bicycle and turtle, with Dalí décor). Documentation of the South American tour of 1941,
Balanchine’s Concierto de Mozart for the Colón (1942), and various stagings of his works in South America
came from the Dance Division, the cooperation of many local theaters, and through the assistance of Antonio José
Faró, a former dancer living in Rio de Janeiro. From Maria Tallchief we learned of her first Balanchine assignment:
understudy to Anitra ’s Dance in Song of Norway. She recalled Balanchine’s gloominess about his future on
their 1947 trip to Paris, where he was guest ballet master and she the first American ballerina to perform since Augusta Maywood
more than a century before. Later, for Ballet Theatre, he refurbished the Don Quixote and Black Swan pas de deux
for the ballerina who would soon attract international acclaim as his Firebird. Tanaquil Le Clercq remembered (by humming) which
movements of the Mozart Quintet in G Minor were used for Resurgence (1946) for a March of Dimes benefit -- in which, with
tragic irony, she danced a young girl stricken by polio.
Aspects of de Basil’s Ballets Russes, with which
Balanchine was associated for a year, were clarified by Kathrine Sorley Walker, and Annabelle Lyon revealed that in the early
performances of Serenade she danced the Waltz alone: the male partner--William Dollar--was not added until 1936. Lew
Christensen and Ruthanna Boris talked about the Metropolitan Opera years (1935-1938).
Patricia McBride spoke of a
‘vision’ solo Balanchine had choreographed for her in a regional production of Sleeping Beauty and said he
often helped with her concert appearances. From Geneva came news of a complete Swan Lake (1967), the first and third acts
in good measure rechoreographed by Balanchine in a week. The collection of Nathalie Branitzka, then in the possession of her son
André Hoyer of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, yielded many programs of the Diaghilev years, which were especially useful for
the roles Balanchine danced. This treasure trove contained, among many mementos, candid films of the de Basil dancers on a boat,
probably bound for Australia.
From the beginning, significant revisions in choreography, costumes, and scenery were
noted. Information of this kind is rarely reflected in programs or reviews--the source is usually conversations with the
performers. For the repertory as it stood in the 1980s Rosemary Dunleavy, Ballet Mistress of New York City Ballet, was
essential. For earlier works, Reynolds discussed the Ballet Russe Raymonda (1946) with Frederic Franklin, Nikita Talin,
and Maria Tallchief; the La Source / Sylvia ballets with Suki Schorer, Melissa Hayden, and Jacques d’Amboise;
Swan Lake (ca. 1927; Balanchine removed the mime) with Balanchine, information corroborated by Kochno, Dolin, and Markova.
Balanchine’s help, of course, was crucial: each of the three versions of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, he
said, was completely different; the many incarnations of Chaconne, in and out of opera, were essentially the same. Of
Mozartiana, three productions were similar, one completely new. What were the permutations of Ballet Imperial? Since
these works were created over a span of fifty years, only Balanchine could deal with them all--although many people, especially
such long-term stagers as Una Kai and Francia Russell-- confirmed his memories.
Stagings by non-Balanchine companies
were included in the Catalogue as an important part of the works’ theatrical history, documenting the number of
companies that have taken a particular ballet into repertory, and in what parts of the world it has been seen. Itineraries of
New York City Ballet tours were also provided. Material of this nature gives some idea of the durability of a dance, something
mere premiere listings do not reflect.
In purely musical matters, Balanchine provided a great deal of information--
about Cotillon, Chaconne, the orchestration of Serenade, and Divertimento No. 15 with its
specially-composed cadenza, to name several instances. Kochno, Auric, and Vittorio Rieti helped with the pre-American days;
Robert Irving and Gordon Boelzner with the repertory of Balanchine’s later period. Boelzner was especially helpful on
choreographic revisions of some of Balanchine’s musically difficult ballets--late Stravinsky, for example: as rehearsal
pianist he had been involved with these scores by the hour. He also pointed out that the beautiful violin cadenza in Act I of The Nutcracker was actually from The Sleeping Beauty, but as it had the same musical theme and key as The
Nutcracker ‘tree-growing’ music, Balanchine inserted it just before that passage to extend the mime. Swan
Lake was hummed over the telephone with Roland John Wiley, a professor specializing in Tchaikovsky, and with Arlene Croce,
who also sang parts of Sylvia / La Source / Coppélia to discover their musically overlapping moments.
musical matter may never be settled: there is some question as to who conducted the premiere of Prodigal Son. According
to the program it was Prokofiev (‘l’ auteur), and Prokofiev claims this in his autobiography, an assertion
Stravinsky repeats. In his essential source book, Grigoriev names Désormière, which Balanchine believed to be
correct. According to Richard Buckle, Stravinsky was in the theater that night for the premiere of Renard--but
Balanchine said that Prokofiev wasn’t there at all: he hated the production. Contemporary reviews are not clear on the
subject, and Kochno did not remember, although he remarked that the dancers far preferred professional conductors to composers
in the pit, no matter how eminent the latter might be.
Balanchine was proud of the advanced camera techniques used under
his direction in his abbreviated Swan Lake for the film I Was an Adventuress. The Walt Disney company provided the
information that although Balanchine was not formally involved with the animated film Fantasia, his Water Nymph Ballet
from the Goldwyn Follies of 1938 inspired the Fantasia Dance of the Ostriches and Hippos. Independently of
Balanchine’s participation, Baronova was used as a model for some sequences in the film.
Tracking down original
television work presented particular challenges, since there were no programs or indexes for the earliest years (late 1940s and
early 1950s). Dredging uncovered a Coppélia story called One, Yuletide Square, with Tanaquil Le Clercq and
Robert Helpmann; and a Cinderella with the comedian Jimmy Savo as a Fairy. It was already known that Balanchine created
several dances for André Eglevsky to perform on the Kate Smith Hour.
American musical comedies presented
a different kind of problem: dances were often by many hands, unspecified, and some dance sequences were not listed on programs.
Close examination of newspapers, including Variety, helped, but often it was Balanchine or one of the dancers who held
the final clues: Fred Danieli on Where ’s Charley? and Edward Bigelow on Rosalinda (his first job) were
particularly informative. Tamara Geva, of course, was a source for On Your Toes; Katherine Dunham wrote of her
collaboration with Balanchine on Cabin in the Sky.