In the days before a proper American ballet movement, which was founded for all intents and purposes by Russian emigre George Balanchine upon his arrival to the U.S. in 1933, the dance form was claimed solely by the Europeans. In America,... [more]
In the days before a proper American ballet movement, which was founded for all intents and purposes by Russian emigre George Balanchine upon his arrival to the U.S. in 1933, the dance form was claimed solely by the Europeans. In America, vaudeville ruled, and it is through the dance hall door, not the Lincoln center lobby, that ballet came to America. Before making his mark as the high Modernist hope of ballet, Balanchine choreographed Broadway shows, eventually moving on to the Goldwyn Follies in 1938. In Hollywood musicals, the balletic dream sequence, demonstrated most notably by Agnes DeMille in "Oklahoma!," went on to become a standard device that lent a touch of elegance to a medium looking for validation from the high art canon. Just as Gene Kelley was able to extract the essence of American Manhood from an art form that had historically been perceived as "sissy," Cyd Charisse and Leslie Caron used ballet technique to lend class to the American cinematic showgirl.
Driven by an urge to create ballet that remained true to its technical stringency but that could express Americana (similar to the impetus that moved Andrew Lloyd Webber to create the "Rock opera"), Jerome Robbins and Agnes DeMille made Modernistic ballets out of the trappings of popular culture: cowboys, sailors, and vaudeville itself. These dances were at best gorgeous and timely renderings of the zeitgeist; at worst, they were corny attempts at capturing America's elusive and fickle aesthetic heart. These choreographers used ballet to bring greater emphasis to the dance in musicals, but it really only remained in cameo, as Broadway hoofin' became the more popular spectacle. Ultimately, ballet's trip to Hollywood served best as a stepping stone for the more integrated and interesting kinetic exploits of jazz master Bob Fosse.