"He came from Russia, and he wanted to start something new with a whole different kind of perspective," said dancer Jock Soto.
Wendy Whelan and Soto have Balanchine in their bones. They dance with the New York City Ballet, the company George Balanchine founded in 1948. This fall, the company will begin a year long celebration to mark the 100th anniversary of Balanchine's birth. It will include 54 of his ballets – each one an acknowledged masterpiece.
"There's so many steps and so many secrets in the music with the choreography," Whelan said. "There's always a new sparkle in each ballet."
But Balanchine's influence extends far beyond the company he created. All year long, dancers across the country and around the world will join the birthday bash
Peter Martins, learned Balanchine ballets from the master himself. Martins now runs the new York City Ballet.
"It's so modern," Martins explained as Balanchine's style of dance. "That's what he wanted more than anything else I think. He wanted to remain modern — modern meaning pertinent."
Coming to America from Russia in 1934 gave Balanchine the freedom to be modern. He was free to reinterpret the centuries old ballet steps. And, he was free to intertwine them with music in such a radical way that it was difficult to see one stop and the other begin.
"He also taught America how to look at ballet," Martin said. "He really taught this nation what ballet's about."
In part by putting so much of America into his ballets. Balanchine choreography is democratic – where the corps are as important as the soloists. His dancers are long legged, dynamic and fleet. And, Zukerman said, to this day a Balanchine is as fresh and challenging as the frontier itself.
"It make your emotions work, ballet dancer Whelan said. "It makes your head work. It's thought provoking, which is always good in any art form. Yeah, it's good for the soul to see these things. It's good for the spirit."
(All pictures provided by Martha Swope.)