January 22 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of New York City Ballet choreographer George Balanchine.
Catherine Gunther Kodat, a professor of American Studies, has been researching Balanchine and his influence as part of her larger project on Cold War culture. A former dance critic for The Baltimore Sun and Dance Magazine, Kodat says: Balanchine was the most important ballet choreographer of the 20th century (considering ballet as a distinct genre of dance), and certainly among the most important in Western dance generally. Influential not only for ballet choreographers, but for those working in modern dance as well; both Twyla Tharp and Mark Morris have acknowledged his influence on their own work.
"His application of modernist principles of artistic structure to dance (most famously, in getting rid of plot and story, inviting us to 'see the music and hear the dance'), which was radical in the 1930s, has become commonplace. Though what I like most about that move was how, in applying 'abstraction' to the human form, he helped us see that, in a way, there may not be any such thing as 'pure' abstraction. He's alleged to have once said, 'A man and a woman meet; they dance; they part. How much more story do you want?' The truth there is that we're naturally story-making creatures; Balanchine understood that beautifully."