I. The first exchanges (1947 - 1972)

© BnF, Bibliothèque-musée de l’Opéra

Bonds were formed between the Paris Opera and the Americans from 1947 onwards, with the arrival of George Balanchine. For a time a prospective ballet master at the Paris Opera Ballet, he could not accept the invitation and settled in the United States where, in 1934, with Lincoln Kirstein, he founded the School of American Ballet, the future New York City Ballet. Heir apparent of the Ballets Russes and open to the influences of his new environment (jazz and the stage musical), he developed a modern classical dance form which broke free from narrative in favour of abstraction through sleeker, more athletic and more dynamic composition. This made him the ideal candidate to become the bridge between nascent American choreography and the grand tradition of the French school. In 1947, Balanchine, who meantime had taken American citizenship, accepted the Paris Opera’s invitation: whilst there, he staged three of his ballets and gave the house Le Palais de cristal (Symphony in C).
During this period, the Paris Opera Ballet was gripped by both an operational and an identity crisis with a repertoire that revolved primarily around the works of Serge Lifar. The 1960s would see the onset of change. George Skibine and Michel Descombey succeeded Serge Lifar and Balanchine was invited back to the Paris Opera (Symphonie, Concerto Barocco, Symphonie Écossaise, Les Quatre Temperaments, Bourrée fantasque). Until the 1970s, he alone would embody American dance at the Paris Opera. The sole exception: the atypical Pas de dieux, staged by Gene Kelly for Claude Bessy in 1960.


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