DanceView Times, New York edition
Balanchine at the New York Public Library
Enduring Legacy of George Balanchine”
This poignant passage from a 1947 letter, handwritten in Paris by George Balanchine to Lincoln Kirstein, is one of the extraordinary artifacts on view in “The Enduring Legacy of George Balanchine,” a most thoughtful exhibition, sensitively installed on the ground floor of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center through 24 April. Some of the letters, photographs, publications, remarkable oral histories, and other items will be familiar to Balanchine fans; however, quite a few—such as the unusually vulnerable letter, quoted above—may be revelations. Ballerinas important to the School of American Ballet (such as Alexandra Danilova and Felia Doubrovska) are also separately honored.
Co-curated by Madeleine Nichols (Curator of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division) and Nancy Lassalle (former Director of Education for the New York City Ballet; emeritus member of NYCB’s board of directors), the show’s focus is, in Nichols’s words, “the theme of creativity and continuation” in Balanchine’s career, with special attention to his work in the United States, particularly New York. Although it contains one passage of archival film, from 1951—showing Maria Tallchief and Michael Maule in the opening pas de deux of The Firebird—the purpose of including that is to demonstrate a point about how sound is added to silent, historic films. As Nichols remarked at the press opening, visitors “won’t see the ballets being danced. That’s deliberate. Go to the [New York State] Theater [across the plaza, where NYCB performs], or to the third floor [of the Library, which has an extensive collection of Balanchine ballets on film, including documentation of all the ballets performed in the company’s ambitious 1993 “Balanchine Celebration,” which put on view much of the stageable Balanchine repertory].” Tucked at the back of the show, however, like a secret sweet, is a three-dimensional reproduction of a ballet classroom, in which museumgoers can rest on a bench and watch films of Suki Schorer working with Merrill Ashley and others on the fine points of Balanchine technique.
Nancy Lassalle, who also spoke at the press opening, said: “I had the intention of conveying the passion of Balanchine and Lincoln for the essence of classical ballet, as taught to young Americans at the School of American Ballet, inaugurated in 1934.” She added that the exhibition has also “evolved into a tribute to Peter [Martins, NYCB’s co-artistic director, with Robbins, after Balanchine’s death, and now its sole director],” who “represents the continuum sustained by Mr. B.—its vital sense of purpose.”
The show’s checklist [see links below], compiled by Monica Moseley of the Dance Division, contains information on all the items on display, save for five tutus by Karinska—installed so that it is possible to study, at close range, the fantasy and craftsmanship she built into them in such exacting detail. There is the ballerina’s tutu from Bugaku, one tutu from Divertimento No. 15, one from Symphony in C, and two from Ballet Imperial. As you’ll discover, these are garments made to be seen one way from the audience and another, more intimate way by the performers who wear them. They embody the best of Cubism in that multiple vision, as well as the best of theatrical design.
If you visit, don't miss picking up a copy of the free 14-page souvenir book of the show. In addition to a summarized chronicle of the choreographer's career and lovely photographs, it contains reprints of most of Balanchine's "Notes on Choreography" originally published in Dance Index, and a comment by Lincoln Kirstein.
Finally, there will be four free lectures at the Library's Bruno Walter Auditorium in conjunction with "The Enduring Legacy of George Balanchine":
"'Cabin in the Sky': The Collaboration between Boris Aronson, George Balanchine and Vernon Duke," by Constance Valis Hill (Saturday, January 24, at 3 p.m.)
"Balanchine in Paris," by Lynn Garafola (Saturday, February 21, at 3 p.m.)
"Before the New York City Ballet: George Balanchine in the 1940s," by Nancy Reynolds (Thursday, February 26, at 6 p.m.)
in Motion: Stravinsky and Balanchine's Musical Bond," by Charles
M. Joseph (Thursday, March 4, at 6 p.m.) –Mindy Aloff
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