History

Over the past 86 years, the School of American Ballet has contributed immeasurably to the artistic life of America: giving birth to an internationally acclaimed ballet company, shaping generations of finely trained dancers, and establishing an American style of classical ballet that stands alongside the French and Russian classical traditions. Learn more about the School’s history and influence in the timeline below.

1934

Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine open the School of American Ballet in New York City

At only 26 years of age, Lincoln Kirstein, a wealthy, Boston-born admirer of dance and the arts developed a plan to start a new American ballet tradition equal to the celebrated dance found in Europe. To accomplish this ambitious goal, Kirstein recruited the ground-breaking choreographer George Balanchine, a Russian-trained dancer who had risen to acclaim as the choreographer of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.

Balanchine knew that in order to successfully launch a company he would first need to establish a school to train the highly skilled dancers his choreography would demand. At age 29, Balanchine traveled to America to lead the faculty of the School of American Ballet, which opened its doors on January 2, 1934, on New York City’s Madison Avenue. By 1935, the School’s first performing troop had been formed, but a lasting company to permanently and resoundingly fulfill Kirstein and Balanchine’s vision would not come about until over a decade later.

Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine

SERENADE - the first ballet Balanchine choreographed in American on students from the School.

At only 26 years of age, Lincoln Kirstein, a wealthy, Boston-born admirer of dance and the arts developed a plan to start a new American ballet tradition equal to the celebrated dance found in Europe. To accomplish this ambitious goal, Kirstein recruited the ground-breaking choreographer George Balanchine, a Russian-trained dancer who had risen to acclaim as the choreographer of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.

Balanchine knew that in order to successfully launch a company he would first need to establish a school to train the highly skilled dancers his choreography would demand. At age 29, Balanchine traveled to America to lead the faculty of the School of American Ballet, which opened its doors on January 2, 1934, on New York City’s Madison Avenue. By 1935, the School’s first performing troop had been formed, but a lasting company to permanently and resoundingly fulfill Kirstein and Balanchine’s vision would not come about until over a decade later.

1941

Balanchine Assembles Top Faculty from Around the World

Balanchine solidified the School’s eminence as America’s leading classical ballet academy with an assemblage of acclaimed ballet instructors rooted in the Russian, English and Danish classical traditions. SAB’s early faculty consisted of Balanchine, Pierre Vladimiroff (from Russia), Dorothie Littlefield (from Philadelphia) and Muriel Stuart (from England). Throughout the 1940s and 50s, the faculty expanded to include  notable Russians Anatole Oboukhoff (former leading dancer at the Maryinsky), Felia Doubrovska (former leading ballerina with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes), and Antonina Tumkovsky (a Kiev solosit who had trained under Agrippina Vaganova). Former Royal Danish Ballet dancer Stanley Williams began as a guest teacher in the 1950s and would go on to become one of SAB’s most legendary teachers.

While the the School’s core faculty represented the best of classical ballet’s past, Balanchine continued to refine his own groundbreaking style based on the Russian classical tradition. Balanchine’s approach to ballet, which would eventually become known as the “neoclassical” style,  was marked by its clarity, speed, precision, and musicality—ultimately establishing an aesthetic for the School and New York City Ballet (NYCB) that endures today.

Balanchine teaching at SAB in 1942

Anatole Oboukhoff teaching; photo by Martha Swope

Balanchine solidified the School’s eminence as America’s leading classical ballet academy with an assemblage of acclaimed ballet instructors rooted in the Russian, English and Danish classical traditions. SAB’s early faculty consisted of Balanchine, Pierre Vladimiroff (from Russia), Dorothie Littlefield (from Philadelphia) and Muriel Stuart (from England). Throughout the 1940s and 50s, the faculty expanded to include  notable Russians Anatole Oboukhoff (former leading dancer at the Maryinsky), Felia Doubrovska (former leading ballerina with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes), and Antonina Tumkovsky (a Kiev solosit who had trained under Agrippina Vaganova). Former Royal Danish Ballet dancer Stanley Williams began as a guest teacher in the 1950s and would go on to become one of SAB’s most legendary teachers.

While the the School’s core faculty represented the best of classical ballet’s past, Balanchine continued to refine his own groundbreaking style based on the Russian classical tradition. Balanchine’s approach to ballet, which would eventually become known as the “neoclassical” style,  was marked by its clarity, speed, precision, and musicality—ultimately establishing an aesthetic for the School and New York City Ballet (NYCB) that endures today.

1948

New York City Ballet makes its debut at New York City Center

The School established a performing arm soon after it opened, yet a number of attempts to establish a permanent company during its first decade of existence did not find success–despite the creation of Balanchine masterpieces like Serenade, Concerto Barocco and The Four Temperaments during that time. Finally, in 1948, Balanchine and Kirstein were invited to make their subscription-based group Ballet Society the resident company of New York City Center. The company was relaunched as “New York City Ballet,” with the founding dancers consisting almost entirely of students from the School of American Ballet.

While the new company shared the same leadership as the School, SAB remained an entirely independent organization. Since 1948, SAB has been the official school of New York City Ballet with the mission of providing world class dancers for what has grown to become America’s largest ballet company.

Jacque DAmboise and Allegra Kent in APOLLO

The School established a performing arm soon after it opened, yet a number of attempts to establish a permanent company during its first decade of existence did not find success–despite the creation of Balanchine masterpieces like Serenade, Concerto Barocco and The Four Temperaments during that time. Finally, in 1948, Balanchine and Kirstein were invited to make their subscription-based group Ballet Society the resident company of New York City Center. The company was relaunched as “New York City Ballet,” with the founding dancers consisting almost entirely of students from the School of American Ballet.

While the new company shared the same leadership as the School, SAB remained an entirely independent organization. Since 1948, SAB has been the official school of New York City Ballet with the mission of providing world class dancers for what has grown to become America’s largest ballet company.

1954

The Nutcracker debuts at New York City Ballet featuring children from the School of American Ballet

George Balanchine’s fond memories of his childhood experiences performing with the Imperial Ballet in Russia inspired him to create a similar opportunity for SAB’s young students. With his recollections of the original Russian version of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s Imperial production of The Nutcracker serving as his model, Balanchine created his own version of the Christmas-themed story in which young SAB students danced dozens of parts, including the lead roles of Marie and the Nutcracker Prince.

Believing that exposure to the magic and stagecraft of the theater could serve as valuable inspiration for the rigorous classroom training that all dancers must undertake, Balanchine went on to create numerous parts for SAB’s youngest students in other ballets like A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Mozartiana. To this day, students in SAB’s Children’s Division regularly perform with New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center on one of the world’s premiere dance stages.

SAB students performing in The Nutcracker in 2018

SAB students performing in The Nutcracker in 1954

George Balanchine’s fond memories of his childhood experiences performing with the Imperial Ballet in Russia inspired him to create a similar opportunity for SAB’s young students. With his recollections of the original Russian version of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s Imperial production of The Nutcracker serving as his model, Balanchine created his own version of the Christmas-themed story in which young SAB students danced dozens of parts, including the lead roles of Marie and the Nutcracker Prince.

Believing that exposure to the magic and stagecraft of the theater could serve as valuable inspiration for the rigorous classroom training that all dancers must undertake, Balanchine went on to create numerous parts for SAB’s youngest students in other ballets like A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Mozartiana. To this day, students in SAB’s Children’s Division regularly perform with New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center on one of the world’s premiere dance stages.

1959

A new scholarship program is established and the precursor to the National Audition Tour begins

With a generous grant from The Ford Foundation, SAB and seven other American ballet companies were commissioned to study the quality of ballet instruction throughout the nation in order to “strengthen professional ballet in the United States”. This survey resulted in the distribution of grants to assist schools across the country. SAB received direct funding that allowed the School to establish a national scholarship program with the aim of attracting the most talented students across the US.

Support from the Ford Foundation remained in effect for a decade and these new resources transformed SAB into a nationally recognized organization. Balanchine and select faculty members began traveling the country and recruiting dancers for the School of American Ballet in what was the precursor of the School’s annual National Audition Tour, which continues to this day.

Winners of the first Ford Foundation scholarships with Suzanne Ferrell; photo by Martha Swope

With a generous grant from The Ford Foundation, SAB and seven other American ballet companies were commissioned to study the quality of ballet instruction throughout the nation in order to “strengthen professional ballet in the United States”. This survey resulted in the distribution of grants to assist schools across the country. SAB received direct funding that allowed the School to establish a national scholarship program with the aim of attracting the most talented students across the US.

Support from the Ford Foundation remained in effect for a decade and these new resources transformed SAB into a nationally recognized organization. Balanchine and select faculty members began traveling the country and recruiting dancers for the School of American Ballet in what was the precursor of the School’s annual National Audition Tour, which continues to this day.

1965

SAB holds first Workshop Performances

Prominent faculty member Alexandra Danilova established the tradition of a year-end performance for the School’s advanced students, creating an opportunity for them to participate in professionally staged, publicly performed productions of classic ballet works. The premier “Workshop” performance included the first act of Coppelia and closely resembled the graduation exercises in which both Danilova and Balanchine participated at the Imperial Ballet.

What started as a small-scale venture in a high school auditorium, has grown to become an annual highlight of the ballet world. Over the past 50 years, the Workshop programs have included standards from the Balanchine repertory, Bournonville excerpts, Jerome Robbins’ ballets, and in recent years, more contemporary works by Justin Peck and William Forsythe. The School also commissions new choreography made especially on SAB students.

Many of ballet’s brightest stars made their pre-professional debut at the SAB Workshop Performances, and the school continues this tradition each spring.

Alexandra Danilova conducting a dress rehearsal for the very first Workshop Performance in 1965; V. Sladon

Robert Weiss and Gelsey Kirkland performing Flower Festival at the 1968 Workshop Performance; Photo by Martha Swope

Prominent faculty member Alexandra Danilova established the tradition of a year-end performance for the School’s advanced students, creating an opportunity for them to participate in professionally staged, publicly performed productions of classic ballet works. The premier “Workshop” performance included the first act of Coppelia and closely resembled the graduation exercises in which both Danilova and Balanchine participated at the Imperial Ballet.

What started as a small-scale venture in a high school auditorium, has grown to become an annual highlight of the ballet world. Over the past 50 years, the Workshop programs have included standards from the Balanchine repertory, Bournonville excerpts, Jerome Robbins’ ballets, and in recent years, more contemporary works by Justin Peck and William Forsythe. The School also commissions new choreography made especially on SAB students.

Many of ballet’s brightest stars made their pre-professional debut at the SAB Workshop Performances, and the school continues this tradition each spring.

1972

Suki Schorer and Richard Rapp join the Faculty

The 1960s saw two notable additions to the School’s faculty: Stanley Williams, a respected teacher and former dancer at the Royal Danish Ballet, and Alexandra Danilova, Balanchine’s former classmate at the Imperial Ballet and a leading ballerina of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

However it was the addition of faculty members Suki Schorer and Richard Rapp in 1972 that marked an intrinsic change in the philosophy of training at the school. For the first time, a portion of the faculty hailed from the Balanchine aesthetic rather than Imperial or European traditions. Both Schorer and Rapp danced under Balanchine at New York City Ballet, and Rapp was also an SAB alumnus.

Richard Rapp teaching; Photo by Paul Kolnik

Suki Schorer teaching

The 1960s saw two notable additions to the School’s faculty: Stanley Williams, a respected teacher and former dancer at the Royal Danish Ballet, and Alexandra Danilova, Balanchine’s former classmate at the Imperial Ballet and a leading ballerina of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

However it was the addition of faculty members Suki Schorer and Richard Rapp in 1972 that marked an intrinsic change in the philosophy of training at the school. For the first time, a portion of the faculty hailed from the Balanchine aesthetic rather than Imperial or European traditions. Both Schorer and Rapp danced under Balanchine at New York City Ballet, and Rapp was also an SAB alumnus.

1983

More former NYCB dancers join the faculty at SAB

Following the passing of George Balanchine in 1983, increasingly more SAB alumni and former NYCB dancers began to join the ranks of the School’s faculty, solidifying a full-circle arrangement of passing on the Balanchine technique from one generation to the next. This cycle of training, performing, then teaching is one that Balanchine had intended to come to fruition since the very beginning of SAB.

During the 1980s, SAB and NYCB alumnae Garielle Whittle, Susan Pilarre, and Kay Mazzo (who will go on to become the Chairman of Faculty) began to teach at the school.

Kay Mazzo teaching in 1980s.

Following the passing of George Balanchine in 1983, increasingly more SAB alumni and former NYCB dancers began to join the ranks of the School’s faculty, solidifying a full-circle arrangement of passing on the Balanchine technique from one generation to the next. This cycle of training, performing, then teaching is one that Balanchine had intended to come to fruition since the very beginning of SAB.

During the 1980s, SAB and NYCB alumnae Garielle Whittle, Susan Pilarre, and Kay Mazzo (who will go on to become the Chairman of Faculty) began to teach at the school.

1990

SAB moves into the Rose Building at Lincoln Center

The School of American Ballet had several homes over the years. The original studios were at 637 Madison Avenue and the School remained there for over 20 years before relocating to larger studios at Broadway and 82nd Street, on Manhattan’s upper west side in 1956.

In 1969, SAB relocated again to rented dance studios at the Juilliard School’s new Lincoln Center headquarters, placing it in close proximity to New York City Ballet’s new home at the New York State Theater.

In May 1987, SAB became the eleventh constituent of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and shortly thereafter, moved into its brand new, custom-built headquarters in Lincoln Center’s Samuel B. and David Rose Building.

The Rose Building facilities include state of the art studios and a residence hall for 64 year-round students, allowing SAB to house non-local, year-round advanced students for the first time.

SAB studios throughout the years

The School of American Ballet had several homes over the years. The original studios were at 637 Madison Avenue and the School remained there for over 20 years before relocating to larger studios at Broadway and 82nd Street, on Manhattan’s upper west side in 1956.

In 1969, SAB relocated again to rented dance studios at the Juilliard School’s new Lincoln Center headquarters, placing it in close proximity to New York City Ballet’s new home at the New York State Theater.

In May 1987, SAB became the eleventh constituent of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and shortly thereafter, moved into its brand new, custom-built headquarters in Lincoln Center’s Samuel B. and David Rose Building.

The Rose Building facilities include state of the art studios and a residence hall for 64 year-round students, allowing SAB to house non-local, year-round advanced students for the first time.

1991

SAB Boys Program begins

In an effort to increase male enrollment in the Children’s Division of the School, then Artistic Director, Peter Martins, established a tuition-free Boys Program. This lead to all-boys classes for all levels of male training and helped to foster a new generation of classical male dancers while combating negative stigmas for boys in ballet.

The program has endured and continues to allow young boys the opportunity to study the highest quality of classical dance.

1991 Boys Program

In an effort to increase male enrollment in the Children’s Division of the School, then Artistic Director, Peter Martins, established a tuition-free Boys Program. This lead to all-boys classes for all levels of male training and helped to foster a new generation of classical male dancers while combating negative stigmas for boys in ballet.

The program has endured and continues to allow young boys the opportunity to study the highest quality of classical dance.

1997

Students are given a new opportunity to hone their choreographic skills with the Student Choreography Workshop

While the primary goal of SAB’s training is to prepare dancers for the professional stage, the art of dance making has also been integral to the Company and the School. In 1997, SAB began its annual Student Choreography Workshop which provided students the opportunity to flex their choreographic skills by creating new works on their peers.

This program has fostered the choreographic talents of some of today’s most accomplished and renowned choreographers including Melissa Barak, Gianna Reisen and Justin Peck, New York City Ballet’s current Resident Choreographer and Artistic Advisor.

2019 Student Choreography Workshop

Justin Peck with fellow SAB students; photo by Ellen Crane

While the primary goal of SAB’s training is to prepare dancers for the professional stage, the art of dance making has also been integral to the Company and the School. In 1997, SAB began its annual Student Choreography Workshop which provided students the opportunity to flex their choreographic skills by creating new works on their peers.

This program has fostered the choreographic talents of some of today’s most accomplished and renowned choreographers including Melissa Barak, Gianna Reisen and Justin Peck, New York City Ballet’s current Resident Choreographer and Artistic Advisor.

2009

SAB increases outreach initiatives and community lecture demonstrations begin

As SAB celebrated its 75th anniversary, the School increased its commitment to diversifying its student body by increasing its outreach and providing scholarships and training opportunities to talented young people from all backgrounds.

The School began holding free annual lecture demonstrations in neighborhoods outside Manhattan in an effort to expose more children to classical ballet training and the Balanchine aesthetic. More scholarship money was allocated to students in SAB’s Children’s Division. And strategic plans helped establish a formalized diversity initiative with resources devoted to outreach, programming and the addition of a full-time staff position dedicated to overseeing this endeavor.

The result of these efforts changed the demographics of the School dramatically and marked the beginning of an ongoing commitment to ensure every young person with the aspiration and potential to become a ballet dancer has the access and support to achieve their dreams.

Students performing in the 2009 Lecture Demonstration; Photo by Erin Baiano.

SAB community audition

As SAB celebrated its 75th anniversary, the School increased its commitment to diversifying its student body by increasing its outreach and providing scholarships and training opportunities to talented young people from all backgrounds.

The School began holding free annual lecture demonstrations in neighborhoods outside Manhattan in an effort to expose more children to classical ballet training and the Balanchine aesthetic. More scholarship money was allocated to students in SAB’s Children’s Division. And strategic plans helped establish a formalized diversity initiative with resources devoted to outreach, programming and the addition of a full-time staff position dedicated to overseeing this endeavor.

The result of these efforts changed the demographics of the School dramatically and marked the beginning of an ongoing commitment to ensure every young person with the aspiration and potential to become a ballet dancer has the access and support to achieve their dreams.

2019

Jonathan Stafford is named new Artistic Director of the School and NYCB

In 2019, Jonathan Stafford became the first Artistic Director of the School of American Ballet who is also a graduate of the School itself.

He is the third person to hold the role of Artistic Director, following Peter Martins who took on the position after George Balanchine in 1983.

A former principal dancer with NYCB, Stafford served as a member of the permanent faculty as well as SAB’s first Professional Placement Manager before being named Artistic Director of the School.

In 2019, Jonathan Stafford became the first Artistic Director of the School of American Ballet who is also a graduate of the School itself.

He is the third person to hold the role of Artistic Director, following Peter Martins who took on the position after George Balanchine in 1983.

A former principal dancer with NYCB, Stafford served as a member of the permanent faculty as well as SAB’s first Professional Placement Manager before being named Artistic Director of the School.

1930 1934 1940 1941 1948 1950 1954 1959 1960 1965 1970 1972 1980 1983 1990 1991 1997 2000 2009 2010 2019 2020

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