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Diaghilev's Ballets Russes was an unrivalled font of creativity. Many members of the company went on to teach and found ballet companies throughout the world. Choreographers Léonide Massine and Bronislava Nijinska worked internationally, while George Balanchine, Serge Lifar, and Ninette de Valois established ballet theaters in, respectively, the United States, France, and Great Britain.

During the Soviet period, ballet remained a popular form of entertainment, but socialist realism dictated the subject matter (with workers in love with their tractors, for example). Moreover, the Soviet bureaucrats held a prurient view of men in tights--for classical ballets, for the sake of modesty, men were required to wear a kind of bloomers. Male dancers literally lived in fear for their lives should they be accused of being gay.

Ballet in America

Ballet has always been popular in America, which has long been known as a place for dancers to make their fortunes. Elssler's visit in 1840 was extended from three months to two years. In 1916, Diaghilev and his company risked being torpedoed at sea to get to the United States during World War I, and then they toured by special train from coast to coast.

Immensely popular ballerina Anna Pavlova (1881-1931) toured the country for years with her own ballet company. Rudolph Nureyev, to many balletomanes a reincarnation of Nijinsky, became the God of Dance in America in the 1960s and 1970s. "I have danced in Champaign, Illinois,'' he told Dick Cavett.

Although many opera houses had corps de ballets, until relatively recently there were few independent ballet companies in the United States. A notable exception is the San Francisco Ballet, which was founded in 1933 as the San Francisco Opera Ballet and was brought to prominence by William Christensen, who arrived in 1938. In 1940, the company presented the first full-length Swan Lake to be produced in the United States.

A short lived independent company was Ballet Caravan, for which Lew Christensen, brother of William, choreographed Filling Station (1938), one of the first ballets with a distinctly American scenario. Christensen's collaborators on Filling Station were prominent in the gay artistic world of the time: Virgil Thomson (music), Lincoln Kirstein (scenario), and Paul Cadmus (costumes).

Cadmus' daring costume for the filling station attendant Mac's overalls used completely transparent material. In performance, of course, the dancer's genitals were covered by his bikini-like "dance belt," but the photographer George Platt Lynes somehow persuaded self-proclaimed heterosexual dancer Jacques d'Amboise to pose nude in this costume. The show-all photograph is now in the collection of the Kinsey Institute.

The first large-scale, major American ballet companies were the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (1937-1962), American Ballet Theatre (1940-current), and the New York City Ballet (1948-current).

Originally formed in Monte Carlo after the death of Diaghilev and led by choreographer Léonide Massine, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo became the national ballet company of the United States by virtue of its transcontinental tours from 1940 until its demise in 1962.

Financed with American money and directed by Serge Denham, a Russian banker, the company strove to continue the great tradition of the original Ballets Russes. One of its distinctions is that it commissioned many ballets by a dozen women choreographers, most notably Agnes de Mille's Rodeo (1942).

The American Ballet Theatre, an outgrowth of Diaghilev star Mikhail Mordkin's Ballet, came into being in 1940, under the patronage and direction of Lucia Chase, herself a dancer. Incorporating classics and new work, great dancers and choreographers collaborated in creating perhaps the richest and most varied repertoire of any ballet company in the world.

Significant among the choreographers associated with the American Ballet Theatre are Antony Tudor (1909-1987) and Jerome Robbins (1918-1998). Of particular intellectual distinction is the work of English choreographer Tudor. Father of the psychological ballet, Tudor created dances concerned with the anguish of frustrated love, as for examples Lilac Garden (1936), Undertow (1945), Pillar of Fire (1942), and Romeo and Juliet (1943), to music of Frederick Delius, all featuring Tudor's lover, dancer Hugh Laing.

Jerome Robbins, the most famous American choreographer both in the ballet and on Broadway, was one of the most ferociously in-the-closet personalities in the dance world. Fearful of exposure if he failed to cooperate, he named many colleagues as Communist party members for the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Robbins' first ballet for American Ballet Theatre, Fancy Free (1944), about three sailor buddies on leave in New York City, is still an audience favorite. Created for New York City Ballet, his masterpieces Afternoon of a Faun (1953), an ode to narcissism, and The Cage (1951), a fable about woman destroying man, are rarely revived, but his more humorous and less provocative work is still in the repertoire.

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