sequence starts again. The footwork is fast and furious but nobody shouts. swears or flounces off in a huff. I admit to feeling a little disappointed. ‘Balanchine did not think you had to be temperamental to be an artist‘. the PR lady tells me. Byars, a talented 24 year-old who has just been promoted to soloist later explains: ‘You have to realise that this company was called ‘Balanchine‘s Laboratory“ — we serve choreographers. We are here to be created on and that‘s what makes us different from the American Ballet Theatre (led by Baryshnikov) which is best known for its stars.‘
The NYCB is proud of its democratic structure — there are few other top ballet companies in which corps de ballet dancers are regularly alllowed to partner soloists. But no one is really fooled. Balanchine certainly had his favourites and art can never be really democratic. Santhe Tsetsilas, 21, puts it bluntly: ‘You have to be quick around here or you don‘t get used.‘
Gelsey Kirkland, once a Balanchine favourite and one of the
world‘s most celebrated ballerinas, dares to criticise the great master in her controversial autobiography. ‘Dancing On My Grave‘. In her, admittedly one-sided. account. Balanchine emerges as a despot with a ‘concentration camp aesthetic‘ who encouraged his dancers to starve themselves. take amphetamines and, above all, not to think. She complains of being treated like a robot and writes: ‘The body was a machine to be “assembled” — the same word he used to describe the process by which he created his ballets.‘ Kirkland is clearly a highly-strung person and her story is dismissed as ‘completely over the top‘ by all the dancers I talked to. After all. the prima — sorry, I mean experienced soloist — Suzanne Farrell had a very different experience ofworking with Balanchine. But Byars confesses that in such a large company dancers sometimes have to fight to remain individuals: There are 110 of us and it‘s hard to recognise everyone‘s achievements. . . You have to be your own harshest critic.‘
In 1934, two young men, Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine founded the School of American Ballet and The American Ballet. From those early beginnings the New York City Ballet grew and prospered and for the next fifty years Balanchine and Kirstein’s company developed a style and an identity of such individuality that it is now recognised the world over as one of the major repositories of the
classical dance. Balanchine through his enormous creative output during that half century, was a choreographer of such great stature that only Martha Graham, in the field of contemporary dance, has achieved similar heights.
Balanchine’s style incorporates a rigorous classicism, a dynamism of movement with unexpected sequences of steps, which is at all times musical but not extrovertly emotional. His detractors found his choreography soulless and mechanical while his admirers found his work exciting and innovative, Balanchine himself preferred to look upon his work as a craft rather than a precious performance. He was fond of quoting Tchaikovsky, who said ‘l'm writing music like a cobbler makes shoes. If the shoes are good, l'm happy, art comes later.’ Like the cobbler he would discard steps that didn't fit a particular dancer and find fifty others to try instead.
0f Balanchine the man, a charming story illustrates his natural warmth and humanity. Like so many emigrés he
was a faithful friend to those with whom he had worked priorto coming to the States. An old make-up man whom he had known in Petersburg had fallen on hard times so Balanchine gave him the job of doing the make-up for his own company. As nearly all dancers do their own, his job must have been a particularly cushy one!
Now, five years after Balanchine’s death, New York City Ballet occupies a unique place among the world’s finest ballet companies, and theirvisitto Glasgow theironly UK date, is particularly welcome. Naturally the repertoire they bring reflects their position with five out of eight works choreographed by Balanchine.
In recent years the company has been led by Jerome Robbins and Peter Martins. Robbins, whose name is synonymous with the best on Broadway, (he choreographed West Side Story and Fiddler On The Roof among others), is an eclectic artist whose work ranges from the lyrical eloquence of ‘Other Dances' to the brilliant humour of ‘The Concert‘. Martins, a principal dancerfor many years has also developed as a choreographer and it is a pity that no work of his be performed.
New York City Ballet has never been short of great dancers. Illustrious names such as Edward Villella, Violette Verdy, Patricia McBride and Jacques D‘Amboise have contributed to the company's success over the years. 0fthe new generation, Merrill Ashley, lb Andersen and Jock Soto are certainly among the finest artists on the ballet stage today.
The company last visited Scotland in 1967 forthe Edinburgh Festival. Performances of Apollo were scheduled but due to injury it became necessary to find a replacement for the title role. A young unknown was brought over from Denmark to dance the role with only a few days rehearsal. That young man was Peter Martins. Twenty-two years later he returns, as Ballet Master-in-Chlef of the company, and when the curtain rises on 6 September Balanchine's Apollo will open the programme.
New York City Ballet, Theatre Royal. Glasgow, 6-1!) Sept.
The List 1— 14 September 19899