March 18, 2023

Mr. B - George Balanchine’s 20th Century: A must read and a must buy!

I greatly enjoyed reading Jennifer Homans’ Mr. B - George Balanchine’s 20th Century. As a PhD in modern European History along with her years training at Balanchine’s School of American ballet and as a professional dancer, she is the ideal person to analyse the life work of this genius choreographer. The meticulous and far-reaching research which took place over a decade in various countries is woven into a narrative that is both informative and entertaining. Some key ballets are described in breathtaking detail with the musical, physical and spiritual challenges involved for all participants explained in a way that places the reader in the rehearsal hall or the audience with great immediacy.

The story is told from Mr. B’s early life: performing for the Russian Imperial family at the Maryinsky Theatre, to starvation and chaos during the revolution, to working with the famous Serge Diaghilev - and finally to America - with many stops in between. Some particularly interesting insights include his work with African American choreographer Katherine Dunham in 1940 and her influence on his work. Mr. B was an early champion of African American dancers, beginning with the great Arthur Mitchell (who joined New York City Ballet as a principal dancer in 1955). 

George Balanchine felt that he was only fully alive when he was creating ballets and his list of masterworks that continue to inspire dancers and audiences worldwide is long and impressive. This wonderful book tells the story of his life and sources of inspiration with sophistication and clarity.