Name: George Balanchine
Born: 22 January 1904. St Petersburg. Russia.
Died: 30 April. 1983. New York City. USA.
Who was he? The father of modern ballet.
What did he do? Pared down 19th century ballet to its bare bones. Out went the stuff of fairy-tales. ln came strong. dynamic. angular ballets with loose themes and modern scores. Balanchine’s dancers required great strength. speed. attack. musicality and long, lean bodies to execute his work: with his revolution came the modern ideal of the ‘perfect’ baHenna.
Where is he now? At that great after—show party in the sky.
Rocky road to tame? Not entirely smooth. Wanted to be a composer. settled for being a dancer. Entered the Kirov ballet at the age of seventeen. Three years later took a small troupe on a European Tour and never returned. Rescued from the ranks of starving artists in Paris by the mighty impresario Sergei Diaghilev and became the last in a long line of choreographers for the legendary Ballets Russes. Arrived in New York in I938 and never looked back. Ten years later he founded New York City Ballet. who along with Miami City Ballet still keep his repertoire alive today.
Sidelines: A whole stack of Broadway musicals and Hollywood films. and Circus Polka for Barnum and Bailey Circus.
Stars in his eyes? You bet. And a whole string in his bed by all accounts: Balanchine married no less than three of his star ballerinas.
Edinburgh look out . . . for the cool, clean colours of the abstract ballet J(’W(’l.8‘ — Programme One. Or catch the mixed bill of ‘essential Balanchine’ that includes The Four Temperaments — the definitive modern ballet in Programme Two.
You know it’s Balanchine when: The dancers have hollow cheekbones and unfeasibly long legs; the technical expertise is breathtaking; you know it’s a ballet but you can’t work out which one’s the fairy godmother. What the papers say: ‘Walking as one might envision only archangels would. strolling through Paradise.’ Sun Sentinel
Footnotes: 'Vliami City Ballet’s Artistic Director Edward Villella has released his autobiography The Prodigal Son — Dancing for Balanchine in a world of Pain and Magic — which just about sums it up.
Mlaml elty Ballet: the long, angular Ilnes or Balachlnes levels
four on the floor
George Balanchine, Merce Cunningham, Lucinda Childs, Mark Morris. We’re talking giants of American dance. But if by some chance your knowledge of the world’s greatest movers and shakers is less than perfect — then sit back and let The List give you the lowdown on the four world class choreographers featuring in this year’s Festival.
Name: Merce Cunningham Born: 16 April 1919. Centralia. Washington. USA.
Who is he? The man who changed the face of modern dance.
What did he do? Turned his back on the dramatic expression a of 50s modern dance and went in hot pursuit of his belief that dance could be about ‘just’ dancing. He devised his own vocabulary. combining upright classical lines with sharp modern twists and sweeping curves. He refused to impose storylines or emotional expression on his movement — as far as he was concerned dance was dramatic enough as it was. He would use chance methods such as the roll of a dice. or the toss of a coin to determine the order of his steps and movement. Music and design would often come together for the first time on the night of a performance. These unconventional ideas sent shockwaves through the dance world and immediately found sympathy with the avant- garde art and music scene of the time. Composer John Cage has been a life long ally. Jasper Johns. Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol have all worked with him over the years. Merce Cunningham goes down in history not only as a huge inﬂuence on 201 h century dance but on 20th century art ; as a whole.
Where is he now? Still leading his own company and breaking new ground at 74 years young.
Rocky road to tame? Wanted to be an actor. settled for being a dancer. Danced with Martha Graham Company 1939 — 1945. First met John Cage in a Seattle dance class and began doing his own thing while still working with Graham. The Merce Cunningham Dance Company was established in 1953 and. from humble beginnings in a Volkswagon mini-bus, have been touring the world ever since.
Sidelines: Dancers are often technophobes. Not Cunningham. Over the years he has made significant contributions to the art of videodance and has recently become one of the first choreographers to create work using the revolutionary computer program Life Forms.
Edinburgh look out . . . for the classic Cunningham look of Cargo X and Enter: his most recent work piece of cyber-choreography.
Stars in his eyes? Nope. Just 1()() per cent dedication to his art.
What the papers say: ‘With the death of George Balanchine it has become clear that Merce Cunningham stands alone as the dominant artistic force in American dance.’ Wall St Journal
You know it’s Cunningham when: The music is weird; there is no music; none of the dancers have big cheesy grins; the dancers seem to have forgotten their costumes and wear all-in-one leotards: there’s a man on stage old enough to be your grandad (that’s Merce).
Footnotes . . . ‘Dancing remains absolutely magical to me. it‘s as ifl don’t know what I’m doing.’ (Merce Cunningham 1993)
Merce Cunningham at 74 years young
12 The List 12—18 August 1994