Ballet visionary Lincoln Kirstein can be credited as much as anyone for creating a uniquely American ballet tradition. When an American dancer moved, Kirstein argued, he expressed “his legible freedom, springing in space” and evoked “the irrepressible and indomitable instinct to human liberty.”
When he first met George Balanchine, Kirstein wrote a friend: “We have a real chance to have an American ballet in three years’ time. . . . Do you know George Balanchine?” Kirstein and Balanchine created the School of American Ballet in 1934, a company that evolved into the New York City Ballet in 1948. Kirstein served as that company’s general director from its inception until 1989, with Balanchine and Jerome Robbins as founding choreographers.
Kirstein shaped a ballet tradition that resonated with the American experience. To his biographer Martin Duberman, he had a rare talent—an alchemy—that “achieved magic in American awareness.”