It’s remarkable that so many great dancers and choreographers came out of repressive, revolutionary Russia. This book is the story of how and why.
Kendall (Literary Studies/The New School; Autobiography of a Wardrobe, 2009) begins with the 1920 class of the Petrograd Imperial Theater School, which began their ballet training during the last days of the czar. When he was 9, Balanchine’s parents took his sister to audition, and while she was rejected, he was quickly chosen—against his wishes. He hated dancing. The students’ housing was warm and comfortable, food was bountiful, and carriages were provided to take students to performances. That abruptly ended in 1917, and the struggle to survive after the revolution illustrates the dancers’ resolve. This is not so much a biography of Balanchine but a story of the dedication of all these young dancers and their drive for perfection. Their determination to perform, along with all Russians’ love for the arts, particularly ballet, ensured their survival under the Bolsheviks. Was his muse the ballerina Lidia Ivanova, or was it the experience of his intensive classical training? He absorbed Ivanova’s brilliant new ways of movement inspired by a visit from Isadora Duncan. Ivanova’s death, just before Balanchine’s small group left Russia in 1924, deprived the world of a great ballerina but left him with an ideal to copy as he wrote for others. While Balanchine was a great dancer, this is when his choreographic talents were born. His classical training is what enabled him to create the avant-garde dancing that is today’s norm.
The ballet students barely survived through the civil war, foraging for food, burning furniture for heat, searching for venues and always dancing. Kendall’s great success is her illustration of the profound love and devotion of these dancers for their art.