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The United States, although newer to ballet, has advanced rapidly in technique and style. The United States, however, did not begin favorable towards ballet or any form of dance. The founding of the country came with a large amount of people that were Puritans, of who did not approve of dance (Lee, 1999). Although there were a few groups not associated with the Puritans that accepted and encouraged dance, up until the 19th century, ballet and other forms of dance was difficult to be accepted or progress (Kraus & Chapman, 1981).

By the 19th century in the United States, theatres began to open which focused on drama and other forms of dance. New York and Philadelphia were the leading cities and larger cities soon followed (Kraus & Chapman, 1981). The beginning of the19th century mainly consisted of visiting ballet dancers and performances from Europe and other foreign countries (Anderson, 1986). American performances were still difficult to be seen as prestigious and still faced criticism from religious groups who disapproved of dance. But by the end of the 19th century, the United States, in larger cities, started to have more formal methods of dance instruction and performances (Kraus & Chapman, 1981). But, since the United States still consisted of mainly small towns and rural country villages, dance was more of a social form rather than formal instruction (Lee, 1999).

Dance by the 19th century had been mainly established through private schools (Kraus & Chapman, 1981). But the 20th century brought new choreographers and the establishment of two of the most renowned ballet companies and the top ballet school in the country. The School of American Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet were all established in the 20th century and with it brought a new standard to American ballet teaching and performances (Greskovic, 1998). Other notable ballet companies include San Francisco Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet (Kraus & Chapman, 1981; Lee, 1999).

The School of American Ballet, founded in 1933 by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein, remains the highest standard of classical ballet schools. The school remains focused on teaching students to become professional dancers and to work for the top ballet companies throughout the world. The School of American Ballet is also associated with the New York City Ballet and most of the professional dancers at New York City Ballet have come from the school. The school follows much of George Balanchine’s choreography and students who enter it do so through audition. The School of American Ballet’s purpose was to create an American ballet company and it now contains sessions for students aging in range from 6-18 (Clarke & Vaughan, 1977; School of American Ballet, 2009, para. 1-2).


Lincoln Center, NY. Home of the New York City Ballet
 

The New York City Ballet was founded in 1948 by the same two people of the School of American Ballet: George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein (Clarke & Crisp, 1976; New York City Ballet, 2009, para. 1-4). The New York City Ballet was the first company to have two permanent theatre locations for performances (New York City Ballet, 2009, para. 1-4). With the association of the School of American Ballet, it is also one of the few ballet companies that also train its dancers (Lee, 1999). By far, under the direction of George Balanchine’s choreography, New York City Ballet has become one of the most well established companies in the world (Anderson, 1986; Clarke & Crisp, 1973; New York City Ballet, 2009, para. 1-4).

George Balanchine, originally named Georgi Melitonovich Balanchivadze, traveled throughout the world as a Russian ballet dancer and choreographer until finally settling in the United States in 1933 (Clarke & Crisp, 1973). He moved to the United States under the encouragemet of Lincoln Kirstein to help establish an American ballet company (Lee, 1999). With that and under his direction, New York City Ballet became, “…one of the outstanding ballet companies in the world” (Kraus & Chapman 1981, p. 161).

Most notable of George Balanchine was his style of choreography. He was credited with being the creator of neoclassical ballet, which is considered a more contemporary form of ballet in which elaborate sets are eliminated and the main focus remains on the dancers (Lee, 1999). Neoclassical ballet often can be referred to as the first form of contemporary ballet. The performance also are non-traditional in that it often does not contain a plot and when they do contain a plot are more realistic in form; performances also can be plotted in parody form. The teaching as well as the dancing is less rigid in comparison to classical ballet (Lee, 1999; Neoclassical Ballet, 2009, para. 1-2).

Neoclassical ballet upholds the method of classical ballet by using pointe work, but the remaining of the method can be widely varied and often, completely opposite to that of classical ballet. Movements can include being off-center or having legs that are turned in versus being turned out and dancers are often more free flowing. The music in neoclassical ballet is also more melodic and flows with the dancer’s movements (Lee, 1999). The melodies and rhythms often give an emotional connection to the dancer and choreography that has been laid out. It was during the development of neoclassical ballet, that collaboration between the composers, creators and choreographers allowed the music to become an asset and become more of a necessity in being complementary to the ballet (Lawson, 1973; Lee, 1999).

 

Under Balanchine’s direction of the New York City Ballet and the neoclassical style of ballet, the United States began to be comparable to the competitive European and Russian companies (Greskovic, 1998). The New York City Ballet’s competitive company, the American Ballet Theatre, also became world-renowned (Lawson, 1973).

The American Ballet Theatre, established in 1939, was originally an outgrowth of the Mordkin Ballet established by Mikhail Mordkin in 1937 (Lee, 1999). It was originally named Ballet Theatre and was founded by Richard Pleasant, with financial support from Lucia Chase (Anderson, 1986; Lee, 1999). By 1957, the American Ballet Theatre was its official name, with the main focus of the company being on its star power and one-act performances (Greskovic, 1998). The company focuses on both the international and native choreographers and dancers rather than being fueled by one main choreographer and style. Famous choreographers include Sir Frederick Ashton and John Cranko with dancers including Mikhail Baryshnikov and Kevin McKenzie, both of whom eventually became choreographers and artistic directors (Minden, 2005).

The American Ballet Theatre displays a wide variety of styles in ballet and has become one of the most renowned companies in the world. With the success of dancers and choreographers like Mikhail Baryshnikov and Kevin McKenzie, the company has developed both classical ballet performances and encourages new styles (Lee, 1999; Minden, 2005).

 

Ballet in the United States is short compared to other countries, but continues to be comparable of its competition. Although, academically, the United States varies in style and standards, it continues to thrive and is, perhaps, more advantageous than other countries (Anderson, 1986; Minden, 2005). The 20th century in America allowed ballet to become well established and firmly grounded in the culture (Kraus & Chapman, 1981). The 21st century will continue the widely varied, but reputable styles of ballet. But, without a doubt, the United States benefits immensely from the openness of other countries in influencing the future of ballet (Lee, 1999). The United States openly allows various cultures to co-exist and influence one another and it is with this mindset that ballet will continue to progress and outweigh the competition (Greskovic, 1998; Lawson, 1973; Neoclassical Ballet, 2009, para. 1-2; New York City Ballet, 2009, para. 1-4; School of American Ballet, 2009, para. 1-2).

Famous & Important People in Ballet in the United States

Mikhail Baryshnikov (born 1948)
Known for being an American ballet dancer and choreographer, his training as a dancer originated in Russia in the Kirov Ballet. In 1974, he sought political asylum, working as a freelance artist internationally and in the United States as a principal dancer. He began his work as a dancer in the New York City Ballet, learning under George Balanchine’s direction, but in 1980 accepted a permanent position in the American Ballet Theatre both as a dancer and artistic director. Baryshnikov is known for having highly skilled technique and grace (Gruen, 1975; Mikhail Baryshnikov, 2009).

George Balanchine (1904-1983)
Born Georgi Melitonovich Balanchivadze, Balanchine became one of the most influential people in American ballet. He co-founded the School of American Ballet and the New York City Ballet with Lincoln Kirstein and is credited being the creator of neoclassical style of ballet. Neoclassical style ballet can be considered the first form of modern ballet (Clarke & Crisp, 1973; Clarke & Crisp, 1976; Gruen, 1975; Lee, 1999; Scholl, 1994).

Kevin McKenzie (born 1954)
Current artistic director of the American Ballet Theatre. Originally performing for the Joffrey Ballet, McKenzie joined the company in 1979 as a soloist, becoming a principal dancer the following year and taking position as artistic director in 1992. He continues to lead the company and its dancers toward success in the present and coming years (Kevin Mckenzie (dancer), 2009; Lee, 1999; Minden, 2005).

Robert Joffrey (1930-1988)
Founder of the Joffrey Ballet. Joffrey Ballet is known for being a modern ballet company, performing in highly imaginative ways. Originally founded in Chicago in 1954, other known names include the Robert Joffrey Ballet and Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. But, since its permanent residence in New York, the name is now simply known as the Joffrey Ballet (Anawalt, 1997; Gruen, 1975; Robert Joffrey, 2009).

Lew, Willam and Harold Christensen
Brothers, founders, dancers, choreographers and directors of the San Francisco Ballet. San Francisco Ballet, founded in 1933, is known for being the first professional ballet company. It was also the first company to premiere Swan Lake and the Nutcracker. A ballet company on the west coast, the San Francisco Ballet has risen to be comparable with New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre (Lew Christensen, 2009; San Francisco Ballet, 2009; Willam Christensen, 2009).

Twyla Tharp (born 1942)
Famous American ballet dancer and choreographer, creating several works for several companies throughout the world. She formed her own company, Twyla Tharp Dance, in 1971 and has choreographed for ballet companies such as the American Ballet Theatre, Joffrey Ballet, New York City Ballet and Boston Ballet, most notable with American Ballet Theatre, where several works were created. She also has worked with other widely known companies such as the Paris Opera Ballet and the Royal Ballet and has worked with the famous dancer, Mikhail Baryshnikov. Tharp is known for being the first choreographer to develop cross-over ballet, in which ballet is mixed with other modern forms of dance (Clarke & Vaughan, 1977; Twyla Tharp, 2009).