George Platt Lynes (1907–1955)
Gelatin silver print, 1941
George Balanchine studied at Russia’s Imperial School of Ballet but left in 1925 to join Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris. After Diaghilev’s death, Balanchine co-founded Les Ballets, where impresario Lincoln Kirstein discovered him in 1933. Kirstein convinced him to help organize the School of American Ballet, which evolved into the New York City Ballet in 1948. Once in America, Balanchine also became an important choreographer. His work included Hollywood’s first full-scale ballet in Goldwyn Follies (1938) and on Broadway, such musicals as On Your Toes and Cabin in the Sky. In this photograph, Balanchine holds a drill and a hammer—the tools of an artisanal laborer. It was the process of creation that mattered: “God creates,” he said, “and I assemble.” From 1948 until his death, Balanchine choreographed more than 150 works for the New York City Ballet. Always emphasizing “the visual spectacle,” he proved that America could produce a ballet that was both indigenous and spontaneously brilliant.