Balanchine arrived in America in 1933, founded a ballet school in 1934, and directed several incarnations of what would eventually become, in 1948, the New York City Ballet. More than 400 dances later, the magnitude of Balanchine's choreographic achievement is astonishing. By updating the tradition and technique of Russian classicism with a modern-formalist sensibility, Balanchine single-handedly expanded the vocabulary of dance. Most of all, Balanchine was interested in how bodies move through space and the resulting interplay of music and steps. Still edgy and fresh, his ballets continue to challenge audiences worldwide.
The best way to measure Balanchine's enormous impact is to witness his creativity firsthand. Unfortunately, the New York City Ballet — still the most active repository of Balanchine works — rarely tours stateside. But twenty years after his death, the University Musical Society is presenting the companies of two of Balanchine's most accomplished acolytes, Suzanne Farrell and Edward Villella, as part of the festivities marking St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary.