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The Way They Were: Balanchine and Kirstein, 1933–1940
Dance Chronicle  (IF),  Pub Date : 2019-05-04, DOI: 10.1080/01472526.2019.1625695
Melanie Bales

As we look back, the past often tempts us to see present outcomes as inevitable, especially in cases of great and singular institutions like the New York City Ballet. In Balanchine and Kirstein’s American Enterprise, author James Steichen reminds readers that history is often what survived from the meanderings, broken plans, and chance encounters of any given effort. However, he is also cognizant that his subjects were two extraordinary individuals who exhibited almost superhuman persistence, talent, and vision—qualities that already shone in those earliest years of the now legendary partnership between impresario Lincoln Kirstein and choreographer George Balanchine. This lean and focused narrative—just short of 300 pages, fifty of which are notes—is aimed at the informed reader, beautifully written, and full of well-researched information and perceptive insights. Salacious personal tidbits and psycho-speculations are absent. Several illustrations accompany the text, mostly pertinent rehearsal photos, posters, and programs. The book is nestled into a space surrounded by the growing, but still not prodigious, literature on Balanchine, Kirstein, and NYCB. To a lesser degree, it contributes to the scholarship on American cultural history and modernism. While other books cover the same years as part of an overarching narrative of these two men’s careers, Steichen narrows in on 1933 to 1940, from the first meetings between Kirstein and Balanchine up to a (we now know, temporary) parting of the ways. He puts into relief the disasters, vulnerabilities, and erratic human behavior that often impeded yet failed to completely derail the enterprise. The structure of the book reflects the pattern of Balanchine and Kirstein’s interaction over the decade: a story of dual tracks that intersected for a few years and then diverged beginning in 1937. Following the introduction, four chapters of ten recount the activities of Kirstein and Balanchine as they worked in concert, collaborating more or less exclusively. We follow the move from Hartford to New York, the formation of