BWW Reviews: BALANCHINE AND THE LOST MUSE: REVOLUTION AND THE MAKING OF A CHOREOGRAPHER by ELIZABETH KENDALL
George Balanchine (1904-1983) is considered the greatest choreographer of the 20th century, his transforming genius in dance often compared to that of Mozart and Stravinsky in music and Picasso and Cezanne in art. Born Georgi Balanchivadze in Czarist Russia, he fled the country of his birth for the West in 1924. After working with Diaghilev's fabled Ballets Russes, he came to the United States in 1933, and with Lincoln Kirstein founded the School of American Ballet and the New York City Ballet. Through his many works Balanchine crafted an American style of neoclassical ballet that changed the world of dance.
Much has been written about Balanchine's life after 1924, but his childhood and young adulthood have not been the subject of intense study. Were there pivotal events and friendships during this period that would reverberate in later years, influencing his life's work?
In her just published book, BALANCHINE AND THE LOST MUSE: REVOLUTION AND THE MAKING OF A CHOREOGRAPHER (published by Oxford University Press in a hardcover edition; $35.00; 288 pages; 30 black and white photos; 1 map), literature professor and dance critic Elizabeth Kendall examines and answers that question. She brings to light little known details of Balanchine's time in Russia, illuminating this decisive period in the life of the man who would become the most influential of ballet choreographers. Based on extensive original research in Russia, Georgia, Finland, France, and the United States, the book is part biography and part cultural history of pre-and post-Revolutionary Russia, a period of transition and chaos, but also of creativity and experimentation in the arts. Kendall offers new insights into Balanchine's formative years, revealing more about his life during this period than any previous book.
The "muse" in the book's title is Lidia (Lidochka) Ivanova (1903-1924), classmate and close friend of Balanchine, a bold and talented dancer who was close to the ruling Bolshevik elite. She should have gone with Balanchine when he escaped to the West in 1924, but didn't because she drowned on the eve of their departure, possibly a murder victim; her body was never found. Her name has appeared in biographies of Balanchine, but without much details or photos. Kendall gives us the first book-length study of the relationship between Balanchine and Ivanov, providing a biography of her short, but extraordinary life and her tragic death at the age of twenty.
Balanchine was abandoned by his mother at the famed citadel of classical dance, St. Petersburg's Imperial Ballet Academy (also known as Theatre School) in 1913, when he was nine. He then spent his formative years studying dance in Russia's tumultuous capital city. Kendall details life at Theatre School attended by both Balanchine and Ivanova - the halcyon days of privilege and hard work for the students before the Revolution and the hellish period during and after that upheaval when there was never enough to eat or enough money to buy fuel to heat the classrooms and studios. The author also chronicles Balanchine's early choreographic efforts after the Revolution for The Young Ballet, an avant-garde experimental group of Iike-minded teen-age and twenty-something dancers that included Alexandra Danilova, Tamara Geva (whom Balanchine would soon marry), and Ivanova. According to Kendall, Ivanova was an artistic ally of Balanchine, a source of great inspiration for him-both during their youth together and later in his life, after her mysterious death. Balanchine would have a great many muses in his life, but as Kendall shows, the dark beauty and tragic fate of his dear friend Lidoschka would inspire much of his work for years to come. (A small caveat: technically, Ivanova wasn't a personal "muse" of Balanchine's in the sense it is used today; Balanchine did not create any dances on her and they never became lovers, as many of his other muses did; however, Kendall does admit this.) Kendall is adept at showing how Ivanova's life and death inspired, in part, some of Balanchine's greatest works, finding echos of her life and death In APOLLO, SERENADE, LA VALSE, LA SONNAMBULA, DAVIDSBüNDLERTäNZE, MOZARTIANA, and other works.
In this meticulously researched, gracefully written book, Kendall brings together political and cultural history with the dual biographies of two young artists to shed new light on pivotal moments in the birth of modern Russia and the early events and friendships that would help shape George Balanchine into the most influential choreographer in modern ballet.