George Balanchine (1904-1983) is tremendously quotable – if only because so many of his bon mots are adapted from others. When he declared himself to be “not a man but a cloud in trousers,” for example, he lifted the line directly from one of Mayakovsky’s greatest poems. Usually, however, the matchless choreographer offered not a straight quotation but an unacknowledged paraphrase. Here’s a basket of Mr. B’s observations.
“God made men to sing the praises of women.”
“When you have a garden full of pretty flowers, you don't demand of them, ‘What do you mean? What is your significance?’ Dancers are just flowers, and flowers grow without any literal meaning, they are just beautiful. We're like flowers. A flower doesn't tell you a story. It’s in itself a beautiful thing.”
In Balanchine’s view, Fred Astaire was “the most interesting, the most inventive, the most elegant dancer of our times.”
“The ballet is a purely female thing; it is a woman, a garden of beautiful flowers, and man is the gardener.”
“In my ballets, woman is first. Men are consorts. God made men to sing the praises of women. They are not equal to men: They are better.”
“Dance is music made visible.” (Also, “See the music, hear the dance.”)
“There are no mothers-in-law in ballet” (also known as Balanchine’s Law).
“We all live in the same time forever. There is no future and there is no past.”
“Someone once said that dancers work just as hard as policemen, always alert, always tense. But I don't agree with that because policemen don't have to look beautiful at the same time.”
“In fact I disagree with everybody and I don't want to argue about it.”
“The mirror is not you. The mirror is you looking at yourself.”
And when he received the Handel medallion, he said, “I can't Handel it. . .so I'll Haydn it.”
See Arlene Croce's “Balanchine Said” in The New Yorker (January 26, 2009): “In later years, [Balanchine] waged a personal campaign against the twentieth-century fetish of originality. . . . He saw no harm in appropriating; and he stole and was stolen from – that was the way of art.”
Above: George Balanchine and Suzanne Farrell rehearsing Don Quixote in 1968.