George Balanchine (© The George Balanchine Trust)

Georgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze was born in St Petersburg, Russia, in 1904. The son of a composer, early in his life, he gained a deep understanding of the music he was to work with as a choreographer. His musical training began with piano studies at the age of five and culminated with his graduation from the Petrograd Conservatoire in the early 1920s, where he had studied piano, composition, harmony and counter-point.

His interest in dance was also life-long. He trained at the Imperial School of Ballet in St Petersburg and made his debut at the age of ten as a Cupid in the Mariinsky Theatre Ballet Company's production of The Sleeping Beauty. He joined the State Ballet Company (now the Kirov Ballet) as a member of the corps de ballet seven years later.

In the summer of 1924, Balanchine was one of four dancers who were permitted by the Soviet government to leave the country on a tour of Western Europe. He never returned. After successful auditions for the ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, all four dancers were accepted into the Ballets Russes. After staging a new production of Stravinsky's Le Chant de Rossignol for the company, Diaghilev appointed him ballet master, which carried with it the mantle of chief choreographer. Balanchine created ten major ballets for the Ballets Russes as well as numerous smaller pieces. Numbered amongst them are L'Enfant et les sortilèges (1925), Apollon musagète (1928) and Prodigal Son (1929). He also suffered a knee injury during his time with the company, which limited his dancing, further encouraging his choreography.

After Diaghilev's death in 1929, Balanchine worked with several different companies, including Les Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, the Royal Danish Ballet and his own Les Ballets 1933. With this company he had the opportunity to collaborate with such leading figures as Berthold Brecht, Kurt Weill (The Seven Deadly Sins) and Darius Milhaud (Les Songes).Lincoln Kirstein was an American Dance connoisseur. His dream was to establish an American company to rival any that Europe had to offer. However, Balanchine first insisted on a school, and the first class of the School of American Ballet was held on January 2 1934. The same year, Balanchine's first ballet created in America, Serenade, was premiered. Within a year, the American Ballet was formed, and it made its debut in March 1935 at the Adelphi Theatre in New York. After the collapse of a planned tour, the company took up residence at the Met where Balanchine choreographed La Baiser de la fée and Card Game (both 1937), but he disliked having to choreograph for opera as well, and left in 1938, taking several of his dancers to Hollywood. Three years later, Kirstein and Balanchine formed a new company, Ballet Caravan, for whom Concerto barocco was created. However, after only five months this Company also disbanded.

In 1944, after the departure of Massine, Balanchine began working with Sergei Denham's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. He choreographed for them for two years creating such master pieces as Danses concertantes (1944) and La Sonnambula (1946). They toured Balanchine's works through out America and were instrumental in promoting his name in his adopted country. Kirstein was once again to assist Balanchine in creating a company when they formed Ballet Society in 1946. The Company presented largely Balanchine programmes to subscription audiences, including the premieres of The Four Temperaments (1946) and Orpheus (1948). Shortly after, they were invited to become members of the New York City Center of Music and Drama, where they were renamed New York City Ballet.

Balanchine was the Ballet Master of New York City Ballet for the rest of his life. Throughout his many years as a choreographer, he created over 400 ballets, the majority of them for this company. Included amongst these are Agon (1957), Tchaikovsky pas de deux (1960), Who Cares? (1970), and his last work, Variations for Orchestra (1982). As well as ballets, Balanchine choreographed for Broadway and television. He died aged 79 in 1983.