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"But first a school."


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I was astonished to read this in Jennifer Dunning's review of Symphony Space's Wall to Wall George Balanchine: "It was Lincoln Kirstein, who brought Balanchine to the United States from Paris in the 1930's who said, 'But first a school,' a famous dictum attributed once again to Balanchine in this program." She called the supposed misattribution "one of the few disappointments" of the day.

Jennifer Dunning wrote a book, published in 1985, about SAB called "But First A School." The first lines of her preface are these: "'Would you come to America to start a ballet company?' The question was simple and direct, posed by Lincoln Kirstein to Georges Balanchine in London in 1933. 'But first,' Balanchine is said to have answered, 'a school.' That response is almost as firm a part of the Balanchine legend as his much-quoted notion that 'ballet is woman.' Their origins may be lost in time and embellished in myth."

Has Ms. Dunning acquired new information cutting through time and myth to definitively identify the source of the quote?

Personally, I think "Ballet is woman" was said by Maurice Bejart.

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Farrell Fan, I think a lot of the bon mots attributed to Balanchine were phrased by Lincoln Kirstein -- but he did so accurately reflecting Balanchine's thoughts. This is the current state of the lore, at least. Since Dunning's book came out quite a while ago, she may well have found new information -- she couldn't possibly have written today's article not rememering her own book. (I don't know this - I don't know Dunning - but I can't imagine a writer forgetting a key point of her own book.)

I love the Bejart attribution!

I thought Balanchine watched Westerns -- that's the lore I grew up on. I can imagine him watching Wonder Woman. Perhaps that would have been a ballet.....

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Francia Russell was speaking recently about working with Balanchine. She said when rehearsals were going slowly or choreography was not flowing, Balanchine would start asking whether it was time for coffee and then launch into an enthusiastic discussion of Wonder Woman.

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