Music: Ballet's Fundamentalist

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"When you get older," says George Balanchine, who is 50 this week, "you eliminate things. You want to see things pure and clear." New York's ballet company is remarkable in still another way: it is not simply a showcase for a few rare stars, such as the Danilovas, Markovas and Fonteyns of other troupes. The company offers a fresh tradition almost equally adaptable to any of its leading dancers, and its proudest possession is a chorus that can dance rings around any other. When New York City Ballet Company dancers become "ballerina-minded," wrap the public's plaudits around themselves and go looking for bookings of their own. Balanchine "puts them on a pedestal. This one here, and that one there—all around—and I look at them, but I have no use for them." Live Clay. Although Balanchine's own work is happily apparent to the public, his job never is. It begins back in the bare, mirror-walled classrooms of his own School of American Ballet, on Manhattan's Madison Avenue. There he selects his dancers, lines them up, and then works out his ideas on them, like a sculptor working in clay. While the cast watches, he walks through a routine, testing it, molding it, muttering almost inaudibly while he moves. The dancers pick up the phrase, dance it out, and wait for the next. Sometimes the rehearsals go on for weeks, while Balanchine watches and corrects; sometimes a few days are enough.

Meanwhile, designers are working on the sets and costumes, and the orchestra is rehearsing.

On opening night last week, Director Balanchine stood in the backstage gloom, a slight (5 ft. 8 in., 145 Ibs.), straight, greying man with a rudderlike nose, wearing a brightly checked shirt and string tie, quietly smoking a cigarette while his dancers gathered in the wings. Nobody paid him much attention, and he made no move to watch the first number—"I've seen it," he said. Nor did he wish any of the dancers good luck. "We don't say anything," he says. "It's bad luck." During the performance, while dancers were bouncing in & out of the wings, he shuttled between backstage and the back of the house, watching for flaws, quietly checking up on a dancer in a new role.

Versatile Enigma. Balanchine, all but idolized by his pupils, old and new, remains an enigma and a system of paradoxes to most of them. He turns down an average of a dozen rich offers a year from Broadway and TV nowadays to go on working for the New York Ballet—where he takes no salary. He is satisfied with his income from the royalties (some $200 a week during a season) and occasional fees for outside commissions.

The movies' Sam Goldwyn, who hired him for Hollywood's first full-scale ballet (in 1938's Goldwyn Follies), calls him "the greatest choreographer we have in this country." and adds: "I don't think he has $10 to his name." In 1951 Goldwyn engaged him, at a sturdy fee, for the ballet in Hans Christian Andersen, only to have Balanchine beg off: too busy with ballet at City Center.

Choreographer Balanchine has had five wives, all famed dancers, and has remained on cordial good terms with all of them.

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