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The five: Tamara Geva, Alexandra Danilova, Vera Zorina, Maria Tallchief and Tanaquil LeClercq. Ballerinas Tallchief and LeClercq are the steady leading lights of his present company.
Balanchine's attitude toward show business is a simple one. He does not look down his nose at Hollywood, Broadway or TV. He was the first to put ballet on Broadway (in On Your Toes}, and he has proved his skill in a string of hitsBabes in Arms, I Married an Angel, Louisiana Purchase and Cabin in the Skynot to mention a polka for 50 elephants in pink panties, which he once whipped up for the Ringling Bros, circus.
Indeed, in the past, he has worked without undue complaint at jobs far less rewarding : harness-mender in a Russian harness shop, clown in a run-down circus, piano player in a silent movie. But nowadays, with royalties coming in from performances of his ballets. Choreographer Balanchine can stick to what he wants to do most. Outside of his school and company activities, this means leisure to play two-piano music, cook splendid epicurean dishes (his own favorite: partridge in sour cream), and read science-fiction stories in his Manhattan apartment.
A Straight Back. Born in imperial St.
Petersburg, the son of Meliton Antonovich Balanchivadze, a recognized composer, young George originally set out to be a soldier of the Czar. When he was nine, his mother marched him to the school for military cadets, but he was a year too young. Meanwhile, an official suggested, why not enroll young George in one of the other imperial schools? There might very well be an opening in the court ballet schooland then, after a year of it, transfer to the military cadets.
The Czar's ballet masters accepted George after asking him to walk the length of a room ("I was very straight; I had a straight back"). George became a court servant, fed, housed and taught at the Czar's expense, clothed in a uniform of dark blue with silver lyres on the collar. It was an arduous life. George worked, ate and slept ballet, crammed lessons in reading, writing, arithmetic and religion (Russian Orthodox), and studied piano on the side. At the end of the year there was no further talk of soldiering.
George plugged away at the grand old leaps and turns of the imperial ballet discipline until he knew the basic language to perfection appeared at the vast Mariinsky Theater* among casts of hundreds. The whole curriculum somehow became mixed up with food, because the penalty for a badly prepared lesson was no dessert for supper, and, worse, the malefactor had to stand rigidly against the wall, watching the others eat.
Return or Be Punished. With the revolution, the eating problem became more serious. George got down to stealing fish from the barges on the Neva. "Cats," he recalls, "were very scarce." Court Servant Balanchine had no court to serve, and his uniform with the silver lyres on the collar lost its meaning. The great Mariinsky Theater was cold, dark and empty.