THE FIRST BALANCHINE CATALOGUE
Adapted from 'Documenting Mr. B,' by Nancy Reynolds (Dancing Times, June 1983), with additions by Harvey Simmonds.
In 1983, Choreography by George Balanchine: A
Catalogue of Works was published in a limited edition by The Eakins Press Foundation. This was
followed, in 1984, by an updated and expanded trade version published by Viking. The project took five
years to complete and involved researchers in many parts of the world; the result was the first catalogue
raisonné devoted to the output of a choreographer. This undertaking forms the basis for the present
A year or so before Lincoln Kirstein’s seventieth
birthday, Leslie Katz, president of the Eakins Press Foundation, began work on a bibliography of Kirstein
’s voluminous writings in his many fields of endeavor. On the seventieth itself--May 4, 1977--
Kirstein was presented with a bound copy of the as-yet-unfinished manuscript, packed in an ingenious box
that included a sharpened pencil. The idea was to enlist the assistance of Kirstein himself. This
presentation took place at a surprise birthday party at the School of American Ballet, with Balanchine
among the guests.
After the party, as he walked across Lincoln Center Plaza to the New York State
Theater with his assistant Barbara Horgan, Balanchine said as a sort of aside, ‘I wish someone would
do that for me.’ Barbara Horgan’s telephone call to Leslie Katz the following morning set in
motion the work that engaged dozens of researchers across the world over the next five years.
invited Nancy Norman Lassalle and Harvey Simmonds to join him as directors of the project, and Simmonds was
also to be the editor of the manuscript. The book would be a chronological listing of every work by the
choreographer from his beginnings in Russia to the most recent ballet he had completed at the time of
publication, with first-performance details and a few special notes. It would be printed by the master
printer Martino Mardersteig at his Stamperia Valdonega in Verona, which had also been responsible for
printing Elie Nadelman, the book that marked the first collaboration between Kirstein and the Eakins
Simmonds established an initial chronology and records of premiere performances in the
United States through published sources and materials housed in the Dance Division of The New York Public
Library for the Performing Arts, uncovering such obscurities as Balanchine’s 1943 staging of the
Saint Matthew Passion with Stokowski conducting. In the winter of 1978-1979 he widened the search to
London, Paris, and Monte Carlo. Richard Buckle’s enthusiastic support led to meetings with Dame Marie
Rambert (who demonstrated at the barre), Anton Dolin, and Irina Baronova. The London collections of
the Garrick Club, the Theatre Museum (then a part of the Victoria and Albert Museum), the Mander and
Mitchenson Collection, and the archives of the London Coliseum were mined, and there were interviews with
Dame Ninette Valois, Dame Alicia Markova, and Lydia Lopokova.
In Paris, consultations at the
Collection Rondel of the Bibliothèque de l’ Arsenal uncovered some invaluable Diaghilev
programs, and in Monte Carlo, where Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes spent the summers, the archives of the
Opéra de Monte-Carlo, the Societé des Bains de Mer, and the Centre Presse de la
Principauté de Monaco were consulted. Boris Kochno, at one time Balanchine's collaborator,
spoke at length about Les Ballets 1933 and told of an impromptu dance he performed at a costume ball in the
south of France with Balanchine and Mme. Georges Auric at three o’clock in the morning. He also
corrected the widespread misapprehension that he took his inspiration for the libretto of Prodigal Son
from Pushkin--rather, he said, it came from the Bible.
This European research brought numbers
of new works to light, and on his name day, April 23, 1979, Balanchine was presented with a model of the
book-to-be, including printed sample pages. When, later in the spring, Nancy Reynolds accepted the position
of research director for the project , the preliminary notes filled a foot-square file and a 5 x 8”
index-card box. After a further three years, materials she gathered had expanded to some nine feet of files
and a myriad of boxes and notebooks.
The timing of the endeavor could hardly have been more
propitious. Balanchine, after a lifetime of indifference to anything in print about himself or his work,
influenced by Reynolds’s Repertory in Review as well as the completed Kirstein bibliography,
had begun to see the value of leaving a written record of his achievements. His active involvement in
the project was not only an inspiration; it provided information and clues to further discoveries that
could not have come from any other source.
For Reynolds, no lead was too small, no hint too obscure or
unpromising, to be pursued. Under her direction, research was undertaken in the Soviet Union, in Denmark, where Balanchine spent
the winter of 1930-1931, and in resorts on the Rhine, where the tiny group calling itself the Principal
Dancers of the Russian State Ballet (Balanchine, Alexandra Danilova, Tamara Geva, and Nicholas Efimov)
toured in 1924.
London publications, especially Era and Dancing Times, were
consulted at length for information about Balanchine’s music-hall creations between 1929 and 1931.
Two dancers from his company, “16 Delightful Girls 16 ” (which actually included one man),
Doris Sonne and Natasha Gregorova, remembered wisps of things--a Chopin étude, a ‘statue
’ ballet - - and particularly recalled Balanchine’s musicality, unflappability, and financial
generosity. (He also taught them to drink vodka ‘Russian style.’) The most fruitful contact was
another of the ‘girls,’ Betty Scorer, who later danced with de Basil and became a journalist
under the name Elizabeth Barron. Of Sir Oswald Stoll’s 1931 variety shows at the Alhambra and
Coliseum, at Reynold's she wrote, ‘[Balanchine’s] audition was a revelation. Instead of allowing us to do
our prepared party pieces, he . . . gave us a protracted enchaînement which he demonstrated himself
and which we had to reproduce as clearly as possible, a far better way for him to judge than from the
stereotyped solos carefully chosen, diligently worked upon, and safely within our individual powers.
It was no secret that Sir Oswald’s orchestra (sometimes conducted by his son Dennis)
was unable to play Balanchine’s selections: Stravinsky and Auric. As Barron described it,
'George approached the footlights and addressed the top-hatted figure in the empty stalls. "Sir Stoll," he
asked politely, "what pieces does your little boy know?" Sheaves of music were passed up. George looked
through them: Liszt’s Liebestraum, the 1812 Overture, Offenbach’s can-can from Orpheus in the
Underworld. "Right," said George, "we will do our ballets to these, since you know how to play them."'
The most amusing result must surely have been the Liebestraum, in which the huge stage of the Coliseum
became a revolving phonograph record, complete with ‘His Master’s Voice’ dog and trumpet-tube; the girls were
needles. ‘I may say getting on and off stage was a challenge,’ Barron recalled; ‘I had the good luck to be one
of the four girls who, dressed in Train Bleu– type beach pajamas, performed in a fascinating quartet with
convoluted head movements [that] I have never forgotten. ’ She added, ‘As a personal note, I would like to mention
that such was Balanchine’s prestige that, after he had departed for Denmark, the distinguished director of musicals John
Murray Anderson hired me for his coming production in London . . . without an audition.’
All the ‘girls
’ spoke of the admirable accompanist Balanchine brought with him--a Mrs. Fox, probably of Russian origin, who had married
an Englishman and perhaps had played for Diaghilev. She had been with Balanchine in Monte Carlo when Grigoriev, Diaghilev’
s régisseur, was distributing the final payment of a season. Marching into the Casino, Balanchine threw it all--his entire
capital--on Number 32 and, after watching the game for a few moments, dejectedly left the hall. Mrs. Fox lingered,
then rushed out, and finding him sunk upon the beach, delivered the news that his number had come up: his original sum had
multiplied by at least ten. When Les Ballets 1933 played London, Balanchine saw to it that all the Coliseum girls had tickets.
Researching Balanchine’s Russian years presented enormous obstacles, particularly since there was no word from
the Leningrad researcher for more than a year. Eventually Reynolds established an informative correspondence with the Moscow-based
dance historian Elizabeth Souritz, author of Soviet Choreography in the 1920s, but it seemed clear that in order to find
exactly what was required it would be necessary to send a researcher with whom we could communicate freely. Thanks to Professor
John Malmstad of Columbia University, Susan Summer of the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center’s Dance Division, and
the Slavonic Reference Service at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a reasonably clear understanding had developed
of the probable sources for Balanchine material not available in Bernard Taper’s Balanchine: A Biography, and Yuri
Slonimsky’ s ‘Balanchine: The Early Years.’ Dr. Gunhild Schüller of the University of Vienna was
sent to investigate.