University of Michigan
Rackham Auditorium, Rackham Building
915 E. Washington, Ann Arbor, Michigan
October 31 – November 1, 2003

From The Mariinsky To Manhattan: George Balanchine And The Transformation Of American Dance

A symposium to be held at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

As part of the University of Michigan’s Celebrating St. Petersburg Festival, the Center for Russian and East European Studies and Department of Dance present a public symposium dedicated to St. Petersburg ballet and the legacy of George Balanchine. Entitled “From the Mariinsky to Manhattan: George Balanchine and the Transformation of American Dance,” the symposium will be held on October 31–November 1, 2003.

Background: George Balanchine

No festival on St. Petersburg culture would be complete without a program devoted to dance and the extraordinary tradition of that city’s Imperial Russian (later Kirov) Ballet housed at the Mariinsky Theatre. St. Petersburg trained dancers have transformed the world of dance not only in Russia but also throughout Europe and America.

There is no better way to appreciate this legacy than through exploration of the life and work of the most influential of the Mariinsky alumni, George Balanchine. Balanchine has been compared to Shakespeare in the depth and scope of his work and ranks with Picasso and Stravinsky as a titan of 20th-century arts. By fusing his St. Petersburg dance training and cultural heritage with American popular dance and culture, Balanchine revolutionized ballet and ballet technique, and transformed the face of American—and subsequently world—dance. He founded a new modern ballet company, the New York City Ballet, and created innovative dances for a new kind of American classical dancer, including the first internationally known Native American ballerina, Maria Tallchief. He helped break the color barrier in classical ballet by creating works for the African American dancer, Arthur Mitchell. By the end of his career, he had created a repertoire of modern ballets unparalleled in the 20th century.

Balanchine’s innovations were built on his St. Petersburg experience, and he drew inspiration from Russian culture all of his life. Balanchine spent his formative years training in St. Petersburg at the Imperial Ballet School and dancing at the Mariinsky Theatre. His first appearance, as a child on stage in Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, inspired him to become a choreographer. His love of Tchaikovsky infused many of his major American ballets, including his very first (Serenade) and last (Mozartiana). As a student, he lived through the Russian Revolution and experienced the tumultuous changes that it brought to Russian arts, including the innovative choreography of Goleizovsky and Lopukhov, whom he admired.

At the age of 20, Balanchine left Russia for Europe where he joined St. Petersburg impresario Serge Diaghilev and began a life long association with Igor Stravinsky, who provided the scores for many of his ballets. After the death of Diaghilev, he came to America where he changed the face of American ballet training with the establishment of the School of American Ballet, modeled in part on the Russian Imperial Ballet (later Vaganova) School and staffed, in part, by St. Petersburg trained teachers.

The establishment of the New York City Ballet marked the fulfillment of Balanchine’s ambition to create an America a major ballet company and feeder school on the Mariinsky model. Balanchine’s students, imbued with this heritage, went on to lead similar companies and schools in Miami, San Francisco, the Pacific Northwest, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and Chicago, including the African American classical company and school, The Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Balanchine’s contributions were not limited to ballet. He made seminal contributions to American popular culture through American film and the Broadway stage by collaborating with, among others, Ira Gershwin, Vernon Duke, and Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. He worked with great African American dancers like Harold and Fayard Nicholas, Josephine Baker and Katherine Dunham. He brought these experiences to bear on his creation of a unique fusion of ballet and American jazz dance but never abandoned his training and heritage in St. Petersburg, using it as the foundation to create what is now considered a truly American art form.

Symposium Themes

Organized in collaboration with Beth Genné, associate professor of dance and art history, Peter Sparling, professor of dance, and others, this symposium examines the many facets of George Balanchine’s life and art. The University Musical Society is contributing to this dance component of the St. Petersburg Festival by inviting the Suzanne Farrell Ballet and Miami City Ballet (whose artistic directors, Suzanne Farrell and Edward Villella, were trained by Balanchine) to perform in Ann Arbor in October 2003.

To complement the performances, we have invited leading internationally recognized scholars to participate in a symposium to discuss and analyze Balanchine’s work and influences from a variety of perspectives, and to consider its impact in both Russia and the United States. The Kirov Ballet, performing at the Detroit Opera Theater in Detroit, will provide an important context for the discussion of Balanchine’s Russian roots; the Suzanne Farrell Ballet and Miami City Ballet performances under UMS auspices will afford the opportunity to review the evolution of Balanchine’s vision of a new ballet. As an enhancement to the academic proceedings and with performances of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet and Kirov Ballet coinciding with the symposium, we have included a session with four former principal dancers, for whom George Balanchine created significant works, who will discuss and demonstrate selections drawn from the Balanchine repertoire.

Just as important, the symposium will make “visible” the fusion of Russian and American culture embodied in Balanchine’s work by providing a prestigious forum within which to begin a scholarly dialogue about his work. Balanchine, as well as the art form of dance in general, has been neglected within the world of academe, creating a significant lacuna in our accounts of the history of arts in the 20th century. Scholars of Russian and American culture need to be aware of Balanchine’s crucial contribution and to integrate him and his legacy into their investigations of the tapestry of American, European, and Russian cultural life. Students, faculty, dance aficionados, and the community of southeastern Michigan and beyond will thus have the opportunity to appreciate and contextualize Balanchine’s works within a culturally rich array of St. Petersburg arts programs featured in this ambitious and uniquely University of Michigan-sponsored series.

From The Mariinsky To Manhattan:
George Balanchine And The Transformation Of American Dance
October 31 – November 1, 2003
Rackham Auditorium, Rackham Building
915 E. Washington, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Symposium sessions are free and open to the public.

Draft Symposium Program (2/25/03)

Friday, October 31, 2003

8:30 a.m.–1:00 p.m.
Part I.
Moderator: Marian Smith, University of Oregon
Welcome: Bill DeYoung, Chair, Department of Dance, University of Michigan

From the Mariinsky To Manhattan and Back: What Balanchine Gained from Russia and What He Brought Back Home
Elizabeth Souritz, Institute for Research in the Arts, Moscow

Myths and Consequences
R. John Wiley, University of Michigan

Sleeping Beauty and the Young Georgi Balanchivadze
Tim Scholl, Oberlin College

Stravinsky and Balanchine: Baiser de la Fée
Stephanie Jordan, Roehampton, University of Surrey, London

2:00–5:30 p.m.
Part II.
Moderator: Jessica Fogel, University of Michigan

“Glorifying the American Woman”: Balanchine, Josephine Baker and American Racism
Beth Genné, University of Michigan

Balanchine and “Raymonda”: Americanizing a Russian Classic
Lynn Garafola, Barnard College

“Episodes”: Balanchine, Martha Graham, and Paul Taylor
Angela Kane, University of Surrey

The Influence of the Imperial Ballet on Balanchine’s American Works
Jane Pritchard, Archivist and Historian, London English National Ballet

Evening Performance (Ticketed Event)
Suzanne Farrell Ballet, Power Center

Saturday, November 1, 2003

9:30 a.m.–12:00 p.m.
Part III.
Moderator: Peter Sparling, University of Michigan

Back to Life: Reconstructing the Balanchine/Stravinsky Rénard
Nancy Reynolds, Balanchine Foundation

Seeing the Music and Hearing the Dance: Three Balanchine Scores Revisited
Christian Matjias, University of Michigan
Tina Curran, Director, Language of Dance Center

3:00–5:00 p.m.
Part IV. Creating with Balanchine
Moderators: Francis Mason, writer, dance critic, and editor of Ballet Review; U-M Department of Dance Faculty

Suzanne Farrell, former principal dancer, New York City Ballet; director, Suzanne Farrell Dance Company, Kennedy Center, Washington

Arthur Mitchell, former principal dancer, New York City Ballet; director, Dance Theatre of Harlem, New York [Not confirmed]

Violette Verdy, former principal dancer, New York City Ballet; former director, Paris Opéra Ballet; professor of dance, Indiana University

Edward Villella, former principal dancer, New York City Ballet; director, Miami City Ballet

Evening Performance (Ticketed Event)
Kirov Ballet, Detroit Opera House


Sponsors include the University of Michigan’s Center for Russian and East European Studies; Department of Dance; Institute for the Humanities; International Institute; College of Literature, Science, and the Arts; Office of the Provost; Institute for Research on Women and Gender; and Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures; and the Trust for Mutual Understanding.


For further information on the Symposium, contact the U-M Center for Russian and East European Studies, 734.764.0351 or <[email protected]>.

For further information on “Celebrating St. Petersburg: 300 Years of Cultural Brilliance,” please consult the festival Web site at <>.

Related Links

The George Balanchine Foundation

George Balanchine Biography (New York City Ballet)

Mariinsky Theatre

The Kirov Ballet

Dance Theatre of Harlem

Miami City Ballet

New York City Ballet

Kennedy Center