Tanaquil LeClercq as Dewdrop in The Nutcracker (1952)
Edwin Denby, “A letter on
’s Ballet”, August 1952 New York City
The NYC style is the most particularized and the clearest defined of all the American ones; the most Puritan in its uprightness. For me an immediate attraction of the NYC’s style is the handsomeness of the dancing, and another is the absence of glamour, of glamourization. To have left glamour out is only a negative virtue, but there is a freshness in it to start with.
Handsome the NYC way of dancing certainly is. Limpid, easy, large, open, bounding; calm in temper and steady in pulse; virtuoso in precision, in stamina, in rapidity. So honest, so fresh and modest the company looks in action. The company’s stance, the bearing of the dancer’s whole body in action is the most straightforward, the clearest I ever saw; it is the company’s physical approach to the grand style – not to the noble carriage but to the grand one. Simple and clear the look of shoulder and hip, the head, the elbow, and the instep; unnervous the bodies deploy in the step, hold its shape in the air, return to balance with no strain, and redeploy without effort. Never was there so little mannerism in a company, or extravagance. As clear as the shape of the step in the NYC style is its timing, its synchronization to the score at the start, at any powerful thrust it has, at its close. So the dancers dance unhurried, assured, and ample. They achieve a continuity of line and a steadiness of impetus that is unique, and can brilliantly increase the power of it and the exhilarating speed to the point where it glitters like cut glass. The rhythmic power of the company is its real style, and its novelty of fashion. Some people complain that such dancing is mechanical. It seems quite the opposite to me, like a voluntary, a purely human attentiveness.
It is an attention turned outside rather than inside. It is turned not to sentiment and charm, but to perspicuity and action. It suggests a reality that is not personal, that outlives the dancer and the public, like a kind of faith. The company is not trying for an emotional suggestion; it seems to be trying for that much harder thing, a simple statement.
Allegra Kent and Edward Villella in Bugaku (1963), photo by Bert Stern
Stravinsky's comments on Movements (1963)Those extraordinary bee-like girls (big thighs, nipped-in waists, pinheads) who seem to be bred according to Balanchine’s specifications.
Six members of the original cast of Agon (1957)
Arlene Croce, "Balanchine's Girls: The Making of Style," April 1971
[Following Agon] These girls didn’t seem to think; they acted. They didn’t walk; they swam and hovered in balances and dove with a perilous insistence; or they moved one muscle and froze the time they moved it in, as if time, by catching up, might force it to move by itself. Balanchine’s choreography in this style, after Agon (1957) and up through Movements (1963), was increasingly microscopic, cellular: tight phrases exploding like crystals in a confined space…The new ballets to the new music seemed to seize on qualities of architectural scale and anatomical development that made sense to New Yorkers. And they made sense in an era of affluence. These were richly concentrated, high-protein ballets, with more “grip” per measure than anything that had been seen up to that time.
For some people, the idea that poetry can pour from the bodies of hardworking American girls…is hard to believe, and occasionally, as we watch one of these girls moving with brilliant clarity, the thought “She doesn’t know what she’s doing” occurs to us. If she did, though, would she do it better? The question has never been answered. It isn’t mindlessness but the state beyond mind that moves us in perfect dancing. It’s what moves the dancer, too.