|New York City Ballet|
|France and the New York City Ballet have a relationship of creative longevity and historical importance.|
|ARTS ARENA | Margery Arent Safir, Executive Director|
New York City Ballet’s founding choreographers, George Balanchine (1904-1983) and Jerome Robbins (1918-1998), were not only awarded France’s highest cultural honors, Chevalier de l'Ordre National de la Légion d'Honneur and Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres, but their ballets have been performed throughout France for decades. New York City Ballet’s current Ballet-Master-in-Chief, Peter Martins (b.1946), also Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres, has brought the Company to Paris on several occasions since the death of Balanchine.
Balanchine's long history with France began in 1928. On June 12 of that year, his Apollon Musagete (known also as Apollo), created while he was with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, premiered at Paris' Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt, with composer Igor Stravinsky conducting. A year later, Le Fils Prodigue (now known as Prodigal Son) premiered in Paris; and in 1929, Jacques Rouché, director of the Opéra national de Paris, engaged Balanchine to choreograph Les Créatures de Prométhée. Balanchine conceived the outline and created some of the choreography, which was completed, when he became ill, by the Ukranian-born French choreographer Serge Lifar. In 1930, Balanchine created Aubade for a company formed by Vera Nemtchinova, and in 1931 a ballet for a production of Offenbach's comic opera Orphée aux Enfers with a group of dancers called "Les Ballets Russes de Georges Balanchine." He then left Paris to become Ballet Master of a new company in Monte Carlo, but returned in 1933 to form "Les Ballets 1933," creating Mozartiana, Les Songes, Les Sept Péchés Capitaux, and L'Errante, among others. Then, urged by the American Lincoln Kirstein, Balanchine left for the United States, where he would create American ballet.
"First a school," Balanchine insisted and, in 1934, he and Kirstein founded the School of American Ballet. Balanchine’s first ballet in America, Serenade, was choreographed, “to teach [American dancers] how to be on stage. I didn’t intend to create anything.” The ballet that Balanchine didn’t intend to create became one of his seminal works, performed since 1934 by companies all over the world, and, in 1947, by the Paris Opéra Ballet under his direction. While guest ballet master, he also staged Apollo and Le Baiser de la Fée for the Paris Opéra Ballet and created Palais de Cristal (known outside the Paris Opéra as Symphony in C), which premiered on July 28, 1947. Back in New York, in 1948, Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein officially founded New York City Ballet, with Jerome Robbins as co-choreographer. Today, the Company performs 23 weeks a year at the Philip Johnson-designed David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. Unique in American artistic history, it trains its own artists and creates its own works, and has become one of the foremost dance companies in the world.
New York City Ballet has been performing in France since 1952— Paris, Lyons, Marseille, Bordeaux—and the Paris Opéra Ballet has performed more of Balanchine’s works than any other company outside of the United States. When the Paris Opéra Ballet performed Symphony in C at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow in June, 1958, it was the first time a Balanchine ballet made after his 1924 departure from Russia was seen in the Soviet Union. Jerome Robbins’s ballets have also been performed frequently at the Paris Opéra, and other French companies have performed both men's works as well, including the Ballet de l’Opéra du Rhin, Ballet Théâtre Contemporain, the Grand Ballet Classique de France, Ballets Janine Charrat, Ballet du Grand Théâtre Municipal, Ballet de Pâques, Ballet Théâtre Français, Ballet du Nord, Ballet National de Marseille, and the Ballet du Capitole.
Beyond Balanchine himself and repertoire, performers have been "shared" between New York City Ballet and France. The French ballerina Violette Verdy danced for Balanchine at New York City Ballet and went on to become director of the Paris Opéra Ballet from 1977-1980; she and Balanchine are the subject of French filmmaker Dominique Delouche's movie, Violette and Mr. B. Before directing the Paris Opéra Ballet (1983-1989), the legendary Rudolf Nureyev also danced for Balanchine at New York City Ballet. Toulouse's Ballet du Capitole is under the direction of Nanette Glushak, a former dancer with New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre; and among New York City Ballet's lead dancers who came to it from the Paris Opéra Ballet are Sebastien Marcovici, Sofiane Sylve, and Benjamin Millepied. When the 1990 Jerome Robbins Festival celebrated its closing night, dancers from the Paris Opéra Ballet, including Isabelle Guerin and Manuel Legris, came to the New York State Theater to perform in In the Night.
Fall of 2009 marked a new milestone in the history of France and the New York City Ballet when the Company became the first non-French dance company to be invited to perform at the Opéra Bastille, the modern opera house that, along with the Palais Garnier, is one of two principal homes to the Opéra national de Paris. Featured on the gala program was Balanchine’s Apollo and Symphony in C, which was performed by dancers from both New York City Ballet and the Paris Opéra Ballet. “Both Mr. Balanchine and Jerome Robbins worked in Paris at different points during their careers, and they both loved the city a great deal,” said Peter Martins. “I am thrilled that the Opéra has invited the Company to return to this wonderful city, which is so important in the history of ballet, and I am honored that we are the first international company ever invited to perform on the stage of the Opéra Bastille.”
Ellen Sorrin, Director of The George Balanchine Trust
Managing Director of the New York City Choreographic Institute (NYCB)
Site Cross-references: Dance, American Friends of the Paris Opera & Ballet, Légion d'honneur and l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
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