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New Balanchine documentary ponders choreographer’s legacy

George Balanchine is known as "the father of American ballet"
Zeitgeist Films
George Balanchine is known as "the father of American ballet."

A new documentary about legendary ballet choreographer and teacher George Balanchine opened Friday at Real Art Ways in Hartford.

George Balanchine is considered by many to be the most influential ballet choreographer of the 20th century. “In Balanchine’s Classroom” is a reflection on his genius both as a teacher and choreographer, as told by his former principal dancers and students.

The documentary is getting good reviews. Robert Abele of the Los Angeles Times writes, “The intimacy, warmth and humor of the memories give the footage of him teaching the feeling of watching home movies from the adoring offspring of a cherished father.”

Hilda Morales, associate professor of dance at the Hartt School, was just 13 when she came to New York to study at Balanchine’s School of American Ballet in 1960. She said that one morning Balanchine himself came in and taught her ballet class.

Former Ballerina, now Associate Professor of Dance at the University of Hartford's Hartt School Hilda Morales studied at Balanchine's School of American Ballet when she was just 13 years old.
Hartt School of Dance
Former ballerina Hilda Morales, now associate professor of dance at the University of Hartford's Hartt School, studied at Balanchine's School of American Ballet when she was just 13 years old.

“Most of the class he spent the time asking, ‘Can you do this, can you do that? Will you do this? Can you jump higher? Can you bend your knees more? Can you run faster? Can you turn faster?’” she said. “Basically, he was just testing us on what we needed to work on.”

Morales said one of her fondest memories of that time was being asked by Balanchine to come to the State Theater at Lincoln Center. Her job was to model all the costumes for the lighting designer of Balanchine’s production of “The Nutcracker.”

“So I was able to be there with Mr. B until 4 o’clock in the morning in the theater. It was really amazing,” said Morales.

“In Balanchine’s Classroom” runs through Thursday at Real Art Ways in Hartford.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.

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