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The New York City Ballet During the 1950s


Neryssa

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I am researching the history of Ballet Society and the New York City Ballet during the 1950s (the “golden years”). I haven’t found any one book but several describing the period including:

I Remember Balanchine”, Editor, Francis Mason

Repertory in Review: 40 Years of The New York City Ballet. Nancy Reynolds

In Balanchine’s Company A Dancer’s Memoir. Barbara Fisher

The New York City Ballet. Arnold Haskell

Dance for a City. Lynn Garafola (Editor)

Following Balanchine. Robert Garis

Autobiographies by Maria Tallchief, Allegra Kent

3 Biographies of Jerome Robbins

Select issues of Ballet Review and Dance Research journal

Dance magazine and other periodicals during the 1950s

What am I missing? Am I doomed to spend the rest of my life in the Dance Archives in NY viewing programs and photographs _ not that I don’t enjoy this, I just do not live in New York, unfortunately…

Thank you in advance for any suggestions

Neryssa

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Neryssa, you might want to add to your list Lincoln Kirstein's "Thirty Years: The New York City Ballet." The updated paperback was published in 1978, but there is an earlier, coffeetable edition with many rare photos. Also, Robert Tracy's "Balanchine's Ballerina's: Conversations with the Muses."

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A bit more on Kirstein: his Fifty Ballet Masterworks starts in the 16th century, but there is interesting material -- with photos -- about Agon. And, of course, there's Martin Duberman's recent biography of Kirstein, which we've discussed here on a number of threads. (Go to top of page. Select Search and type in "Duberman.")

Charles M. Joseph's Stravinsky and Balanchine has material on this period. So does the second volume of Stephen Walsh's biography, Stravinsky.

I learned about some of these works on Ballet Talk. A number of members actually attended performances during the 50s and have discussed their memories here. I hope you'll share the results of your explorations with us, as you go along.

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I don't know whether you are in New York City or not, but if you can get there, the New York Public library for the Performing Arts has great tapes of interviews of Balanchine and his associates. I'd also add Solomon Volkov's book, "Balanchine's Tchaikovsky" to the list, even if it does not cover the exact period, but because you experience his "voice" in a more direct manner, since Volkov spoke with him in Russian and then translated it himself, rather than Mr. B. speaking in English.

It all depends on what kind of and how much detail you want, as well as what the end product will be. Is this for a book? An article? A school paper?

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I don't know whether you are in New York City or not, but if you can get there, the New York Public library for the Performing Arts has great tapes of interviews of Balanchine and his associates. I'd also add Solomon Volkov's book, "Balanchine's Tchaikovsky" to the list, even if it does not cover the exact period, but because you experience his "voice" in a more direct manner, since Volkov spoke with him in Russian and then translated it himself, rather than Mr. B. speaking in English.

It all depends on what kind of and how much detail you want, as well as what the end product will be. Is this for a book? An article? A school paper?

To all:

Thank you very much. I have appreciated your answers (especially this one and bart's) because I own all the books mentioned on this thread except the Lincoln Kirstein book which I cannot wait to read.

Perhaps I should have written (and therefore a couple of you may know "of me" by now), I am finally finishing what will probably be an article about the late NYCB dancer and costume designer, Ruth Sobotka. She was a minor player, I know. However, my "unpublished manuscript" about her, which has been cited in 2 important books and 1 newspaper article about her 2nd husband, the film director Stanley Kubrick, was meant to set the record straight about her life and contributions to Kubrick's early films and life, etc. Enough said about that.

During the course of researching this "ms" I have interviewed many Balanchine dancers from this period and I found their stories fascinating, compelling and touching. In fact, I just returned from New York/Dance Archives a couple of weeks ago with a few more interviews from dancers on tape. I have a lot of material that I think could become a book. A much-needed book but I am biased. I certainly am surprised that a book about this period has not been published yet. My biggest problem is geography. I live in the far Western United States. If I lived in New York, I would probably live and work in the archives.

Again, thank you all for your suggestions and I welcome additional advice (and criticism).

N.

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One of Sobotka's claims to fame was that she was in the original cast of "Agon."

I'd try contacting Francia Russell, who was also one of the four corps women in the ballet. Russell has a very strong recollection of detail. I'd make an interview request through Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Another person I would try to reach is Barbara Milberg Fisher, whose book on that time, "In Balanchine's Company" has been discussed on the site. I'd also try to find Barbara Walczak. I don't know how to reach either of the two at present, but I would try Fisher through Wesleyan Press - they published the book.

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Were the 1950s really "the golden years" of NYCB? I would have thought those came at least a decade or two later. True, there were some audience members who professed nostalgia for the City Center days, but I think NYCB entered a glorious new era with the move to Lincoln Center. Balanchine underwent periods of creativity and its opposite, but the masterpieces outnumbered the clinkers, notably during the Stravinsky Festival of 1982. This is not to say that the fifties are not worth studying and remembering.

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Were the 1950s really "the golden years" of NYCB? I would have thought those came at least a decade or two later. True, there were some audience members who professed nostalgia for the City Center days, but I think NYCB entered a glorious new era with the move to Lincoln Center. Balanchine underwent periods of creativity and its opposite, but the masterpieces outnumbered the clinkers, notably during the Stravinsky Festival of 1982. This is not to say that the fifties are not worth studying and remembering.

This is a good question but I recall reading comments by more than one critic and several principal dancers such as Maria Tallchief and Melissa Hayden that they considered the 1950s as the golden years for The New York City Ballet. Especially since Balanchine worked more [in class] with all the dancers than concentrating on just one dancer during the 1960s. Of course, I am admittedly biased. If I could travel back in time, I would prefer to view this period of ballet. I cannot comment on Balanchine's work during the 1970s, but I think the work he created for such dancers as Le Clercq, Tallchief, Diana Adams, and Allegra Kent but to name a few, was sublime. These dancers were extraordinary and unique and I cannot imagine that the same level of excitement and anticipation existed in the 1970s when the NYCB was established and financially grounded - unlike the 1950s when each season was in question. But of course, I could rename my moniker as Le Clercq fan... It is a personal thing, I suspect.

N.

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One of Sobotka's claims to fame was that she was in the original cast of "Agon."

I'd try contacting Francia Russell, who was also one of the four corps women in the ballet. Russell has a very strong recollection of detail. I'd make an interview request through Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Another person I would try to reach is Barbara Milberg Fisher, whose book on that time, "In Balanchine's Company" has been discussed on the site. I'd also try to find Barbara Walczak. I don't kno whow to reach either of the two at present, but I would try Fisher through Wesleyan Press - they published the book.

Thank you for mentioning "Agon" as some [dancers] have forgotten that Sobotka was in the original cast. She was in Ballet Society (one can see her in "Concerto Barocco" in 1948) and I have a couple of photographs of her in the pas de quatre in "Swan Lake." Interesting that one can also see her in the Jacques D'Ambroise DVD as Apollo's mother Leto.

I have interviewed Barbara Milberg Fisher who mentions Sobotka several times in her memoirs but I really need to contact Francia Russell about the rehearsals for "Agon." Thank you.

Best,

N.

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Regarding the time-frame. Focusing on the 50s has the advantage of showing the beginnings of a real company, from the first adoption of the NYCB name in '48. By "real company," I mean a Balanchine company pieced together from elements that he drew from Ballet Society, Ballet Theater and other sources as well as the gradual addition of students whose entire training had been overseen by Balanchine. There was also the need to create new repertory -- and bring in new choreographers -- since seasons were much longer than in the past.

Maybe a good cut-off point would be 1963, with the awarding of the Ford Foundation grant, or 1964, when the company moved to the State Theater -- a space which influenced company size and the physical scope of almost every ballet, new or revived.

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