After scrutiny of the printed sources, followed by the
querying, pondering, piecing, and deducing made possible by the contributions of others, Reynolds brought her conclusions to
Balanchine. While his usual wry wit was very much in evidence during interviews, it was his memory that was so invaluable. The
kinds of things that came to him were extraordinary; for example, who was the composer of the Polka Mélancolique
he choreographed for Ruth Page in 1925, long forgotten by Page herself? At first, Mr. B. hadn’t a notion; then he
reflected, hummed a little, and-- inspired--went to the piano and started to play a truly melancholy polka. Composer?
Although he mainly kept his mind on the business at hand, occasionally a remark caused Balanchine to
think of other matters--for instance, that he had applied for an exit visa from the Soviet Union to the Far East as early as
1923. This was refused, and the following year he tried for Germany, hoping that because some German actors had recently come to
the Soviet on exchange (encouraged by Lenin, who wanted foreign currency), he stood a chance of getting out. As we know, this
strategy was successful. However, it might have seemed an empty victory in the short run since, said Balanchine, the heat in
Berlin that summer was excessive, leading to very low attendance for the Principal Dancers of the Russian State Ballet. He also
confirmed what others have said about attendance at Diaghilev ’s Ballets Russes: a crowd of trendsetters appeared on first
nights and for premieres; at other times, this most famous ballet troupe in the world played before sparse audiences indeed.
He spoke of how hard it was to think of things that had happened as long as sixty years before, but seemed to enjoy talking
of the 1930s and 1940s musicals, fondly remembering an airplane number (Night Flight) for Harriet Hoctor in the 1936 Ziegfeld
Follies, for which he also did his innovative ‘shadow ’ ballet and a Conga for Josephine Baker. Balanchine
remembered Hoctor as well trained, although from his description it seems he produced a version of one of her standards: endless
bourrées in an enormous backbend. At the time of Reynolds’s last conversations with him in the spring of 1982,
Balanchine was planning another foray into the world of musicals, to help in the revival of On Your Toes . His serious
illness began before rehearsals started, but the show went on anyway, with Peter Martins patching the choreography where needed.
Natalia Makarova won raves in the role created by Tamara Geva in 1936.
Occasionally, Balanchine was truly surprised by
something the researchers had discovered--his own performance in Le Spectre de la Rose in Copenhagen (with a picture to
prove it), or his staging of The Dying Swan for Toumanova in Holland in 1949. In Copenhagen, where he was guest ballet
master for the season 1930-1931, he completely rechoreographed four old chestnuts: Three-Cornered Hat,
Schéhérazade, La Boutique Fantasque, and The Legend of Joseph, and he also performed as a
substitute for Peter Martins ’s uncle in Les Sylphides. The more one reads and sees of Balanchine, the more one
recognizes his extensive background in the standard repertory, despite his many departures from it. From the Maryinsky he
inserted an episode from Giselle in the 1946 Ballet Theatre production (to which Antony Tudor also contributed): in Act
II, Albrecht lays Giselle on a bed of flowers, but she sinks away, and only the flowers remain. Also from the Maryinsky--he didn
’t remember from which ballet--he got the idea for the mechanical device in The Nutcracker by which the ballerina
is led across the floor by her partner, balancing on a single pointe.
Balanchine never really said anything bad about
anybody, but he did reveal that his Concierto de Mozart was created for a company that could not dance--‘just
could not dance!’--and thus was choreographed to show off Tchelitchew ’s ornamental costumes. He also spoke of
his dissatisfaction with his finale for Four Temperaments, and how he finally got a chance to put it right when the New
York City Ballet was rehearsing for a television taping in 1977, some thirty years after its first performance. He was known to
have carried things around in his head for years, waiting for a chance to act on them. La Valse is a case in point:
Balanchine told Francisco Moncion of a change he had in mind--an earlier appearance for the Death figure--that he did not
implement for several seasons. And who knows how long he had thought about truncating Apollo? One section was dropped in
1978, another--since restored--in 1979; in 1972, he said the ballet would never again be performed by a company of his, seeming
to indicate that he had permanently lost interest in it. But, of course, the work remained a staple of the New York City Ballet
repertory during his lifetime and beyond.
Aware that his reputation was primarily that of a character dancer, Reynolds
questioned him about a picture of The Sleeping Beauty taken in 1926, in which he appears as Prince Charming to Vera
Nemtchinova’ s Aurora. Well, said Balanchine, he was just filling in, a frequent practice in the Diaghilev company. He was
there simply for the partnering: the Prince’ s variation was omitted, and even the coda was performed by others, the Three
Ivans. Along these lines, he confided that he was also often asked to rechoreograph numbers on the spot to accommodate the
absence of essential dancers. Sometimes these creations lasted one night and, of course, they were not recorded anywhere.
‘So,’ said Mr. B.with a twinkle, ‘you ’ll never get everything on paper!’ Balanchine
confirmed Baronova’s double fouettées in the Paris production of Orphée aux Enfers (1931), the
vehicle for her stage debut; he confirmed as well his discussions with Pavlova about creating a Scarlatti piece for her.
Dandré, he thought, vetoed that project, but Balanchine did produce two miniatures for the company, Aleko and
Polka Grotesque, and he also attended Pavlova’s funeral accompanied by Betty Scorer. It seemed extraordinary that he
would entertain the idea of working with a ballerina approaching fifty, and one with a reputation for the retardataire at
that. But it should be noted that Pavlova was one of the few steady employers in the dance field throughout the twenties. The
Diaghilev company was subjected to many layoffs, and dancers, virtually stranded and with little money, could use extra work;
Balanchine mentioned that he created opera dances for provincial houses in France during these periods and, according to A.E.
Twysden, Danilova’s biographer, the two spent their ‘honeymoon ’ dancing for René Blum, probably in
1927. No written proof of any of this has been located.
With the research coming toward an end, an extensive
bibliography and notes were prepared; a chronology of Balanchine ’s professional life was drawn up, including the roles he
danced and the festivals he directed; and the book was indexed by Louis Silverstein of Yale University. Howard Gralla developed
the design, experimenting with numerous type styles and entry arrangements to create the greatest possible legibility and
clarity of presentation.
By the summer of 1982, Balanchine’s failing health had increased the level of urgency.
It became clear that Variations, set to the music of his most important collaborator over sixty years, Stravinsky, and
made for the muse of the last stage of his creative life, Suzanne Farrell, would be his final work. In early December, Harvey
Simmonds traveled to Verona for the last proofreading and approval as sheets came from the press. Three sets of folded and
gathered signatures were hand-bound in Belgian linen by the Milanese firm that was to bind the full edition, and on December 23,
Simmonds arrived from the printer with the first three copies of Choreography by George Balanchine: A Catalogue of Works.
Balanchine was given the book at Roosevelt Hospital on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, as Tanaquil Le Clercq entered
his room, he stretched his hand out to the book on the bedside table and said, ‘You see, Tanny, the Bible!’