Balanchine died 40 years in the past. The ballet world nonetheless hasn’t moved on.


Ballet is a silent artwork kind. It depends on pantomime or motion alone to inform a narrative or convey emotion. Dancers don’t converse, however somewhat grow to be the music.

That is the essence of ballet as conceived by George Balanchine, co-founder with Lincoln Kirstein of the College of American Ballet and the New York Metropolis Ballet. He would watch performances of his groundbreaking ballets — “Serenade,” “Jewels,” “Apollo,” amongst them — from the New York State Theater’s first wing, fingers in pockets of pressed slacks and eyes peering down his lengthy, curved nostril. When he spoke, he spoke softly, in order that his dancers would hold on to each cryptic phrase: “I’m a cloud in trousers.” “See the music, hear the dance.” “Don’t assume, pricey,” as he referred to as his dancers, “simply do.”

The silence natural to the craft of ballet additionally pervades its institutional tradition. Conditioned to be seen and never heard, dancers are generally reticent to discuss the usually brutal bodily and psychological coaching it takes to make it in such a rarefied world.

So how can one make a podcast, the very medium of spoken phrase, concerning the silent artwork type of ballet? Sisters and producers Erika Lantz (previously of NPR) and Elin Lantz Lesser have achieved simply that within the second season of their podcast “The Turning” (from Rococo Punch and iHeartRadio), which debuted in Might 2021 with its first season centered on a number of ladies who had joined the order of Mom Teresa. The second season, subtitled “Room of Mirrors,” tells the story of Balanchine, the tradition of his firm earlier than and after his loss of life in 1983, and his standing in American ballet in the present day.

Balanchine, often called “Mr. B” within the ballet world, is having one thing of a second, even because the final technology of dancers who labored instantly with him begins to move. There may be renewed curiosity in his legacy, constructive and destructive, even amid debates about the way forward for the artwork kind associated to questions of variety, fairness and patriarchal hierarchy.

Late final 12 months, Jennifer Homans, dance critic on the New Yorker, revealed “Mr. B: George Balanchine’s twentieth Century,” a formidable biography that got here on the heels of Toni Bentley’s “Serenade,” about Balanchine’s seminal ballet. Additionally revealed just lately: Alice Robb’s memoir “Don’t Suppose, Expensive: On Loving and Leaving Ballet” and Meg Howrey’s novel “They’re Going to Love You,” each set in Balanchine’s world. With their podcast, the Lantz sisters are on high of the pattern.

Theirs is the story of Balanchine as human greater than artist. The primary within the 10-episode sequence begins on the finish — in 1983 at Balanchine’s deathbed at New York’s Roosevelt Hospital, the place he’s sharing a bottle of slivovitz with dancer (and podcast visitor) Wilhelmina Frankfurt. Frankfurt, who seems all through the podcast, speaks candidly about her time within the firm.

The Lantzes then take us again to the start, to Balanchine’s upbringing on the Imperial Ballet College in St. Petersburg earlier than and throughout the Russian Revolution. 9-year-old Balanchine had accompanied his sister to her audition on the prestigious faculty, solely to be accepted himself as a substitute. His mom left him there on the spot — an abandonment that may hang-out his complete life and oeuvre.

As with Mom Teresa within the podcast’s first season, a way of spiritual devotion surrounds Balanchine. To work with him, even simply to be within the halls of his faculty or theater, meant communing with the very best inventive genius.

Former New York Metropolis Ballet dancer Stephanie Saland describes her time on the College of American Ballet as intoxicating: “There’s something about being elite. You might be being chosen … in a specific area the place it’s so tremendous refined and closed to the skin world. We had been christened — we had been graced — to be allowed within the faculty and allowed to be in that studio and allowed to be in relationship to that group — to the group.”

As a former dancer who attended SAB, I can attest to this. And Mr. B.’s presence was in all places, within the very grain of the studio flooring. His ghost appeared to stroll the halls, current within the tales every instructor instructed, within the expansive studio searching on Amsterdam Avenue and in our personal quiet reverie.

His commonplace of excellence permeated every part we did — within the studio and the broader world. I used to be taught to maneuver in time — powerfully, elegantly — even find out how to hail a cab with aptitude, fingers held open to really feel the air between them. I additionally realized find out how to actually take heed to music, and to understand bodily pleasures comparable to fantastic wine and fragrance. However, above all, the coaching demanded an intense devotion to work, all whereas holding each bodily and emotional ache unstated.

But this podcast isn’t only for dancers or ballet devotees. In actual fact, Lantz stated in a current interview that they contemplate their viewers primarily nondancers.

“Our objective, like with each of the seasons of our challenge, has been to be open sufficient that individuals who aren’t consultants within the subject we’re describing will be capable to have an interest,” she stated, “however then advanced sufficient that people who find themselves in the neighborhood truly acquire some worth from listening.”

To this finish, the podcast options students and writers who’ve devoted their lives to bounce however will not be essentially dancers, opening the door to a wider viewers. Amongst them is dance historian Lynn Garafola, who has a knack for bringing ballet to life in phrases, as together with her description of “Serenade,” the primary full-length ballet Balanchine choreographed after arriving in America in 1933.

Right here, as in lots of his works, the choreographer shunned plot in favor of an intense emotional panorama. At one level, Garafola explains, three ladies, in blue tulle with their hair down, dance with one man. They appear to be muses, the fates or lovers, and he should make a painful alternative. “It by no means ceases to the touch me,” Garafola says. “The sense of betrayal and abandonment. He strikes on and leaves the opposite weeping on the ground.” The picture recollects Balanchine’s personal maternal abandonment as a baby.

The podcast additionally examines the paternalistic tradition on the coronary heart of Balanchine’s world, a tradition born from one man with godlike energy. Lantz relates the emotional and bodily trials of a few of Balanchine’s ladies with a frankness that will likely be difficult for his community of stalwart defenders.

In a single chilling recollection, author Jim Steichen tells the story of Holly Howard, Balanchine’s first American muse. Steichen, who has been accused of unfairly criticizing the choreographer, says he occurred upon an apart in certainly one of Lincoln Kirstein’s diaries — an offhand remark noting that Howard “had her fourth abortion by Balanchine.”

This arc reaches its apex within the fifth episode, dedicated to Balanchine’s successor, Peter Martins, who resigned as NYCB’s ballet master-in-chief in 2018 amid accusations of sexual and violent conduct. (Martins denied the allegations, and a subsequent inner investigation discovered no proof of wrongdoing.)

The podcast then casts a wider web, wanting on the present state of American ballet past Balanchine, Martins and the New York Metropolis Ballet. The change comes with a extra private episode, the place Lantz Lesser speaks for the primary time as she turns the microphone towards her sister. Lantz, who skilled as a dancer via her teen years, speaks overtly about how the tradition of perfectionism and disordered consuming within the dance world affected her complete household.

From there, episodes study ballet and Balanchine’s legacy via a unique lens: physique picture, race and Blackness in American dance, and gender and sexuality. The dialog turns into extra solution-based: taking a look at who is talking out within the ballet world in the present day and thereby eroding the decades-long silence that pervades the shape.

On the finish, the Lantz sisters return to the start. To Balanchine once more, sure. But additionally to the childhood ballet studio, a defining place for generations of dancers and their desires. A spot of ache but magnificence, darkness but gentle.

The Turning: Room of Mirrors is obtainable on a number of audio-streaming companies.

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