Kirstein’s Letters, Part 1: Balanchine

Published in: January-February 2017 issue.


I THOUGHT I was done with Lincoln Kirstein. In 2007, when Knopf published my biography, The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein, I felt confident that I’d seen every extant bit of evidence on the man. That included not only his own massive archive in the New York Public Library, but those of his friends and colleagues; and I’d also interviewed dozens of those who knew him best. But then, two years ago, I got the comeuppance such chutzpah deserves. A huge collection of family correspondence came on the market that had previously been held in private hands.

The owner, whom I didn’t know, asked me out of the blue to “have a look” at the material, and said how much he would appreciate my judgment as to the collection’s worth. After examining it, I told him that in my opinion the letters were worth “a lot”—which, of course, utterly delighted him. Delight and gratitude proved fleeting. Though I’d given him my “expert” opinion free of charge, when I asked him if I could research the collection further—or even buy it if within my limited means—he refused all further contact, and set out (I would later learn) to find a buyer who had the deep pockets he was eager to exploit. In the upshot, the prestigious and wealthy Houghton Library at Harvard bought the collection. Short of owning it myself, that was the best possible outcome: Houghton was enormously generous in allowing me to cart off many hundreds of pages of photocopies.

At roughly the same time, I learned that the University of Texas’ Ransom Center had purchased yet another set of previously buried Kirstein letters, these to his close friend, the painter Pavel Tchelitchev. Ransom, too, allowed me open access and expansive photocopying privileges. Kirstein and Tchelitchev were both difficult, complicated men, and their friendship was sometimes strained. Yet their bond held, and Kirstein’s letters to “Pavlik” are more deeply personal than any others I’ve seen, and are particularly rich—full of acerbic wit and shrewd insight—into the doings of the international set of gay artists who made up Kirstein’s circle of friends, which included, among others: W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Stephen Spender, Philip Johnson, Glenway Wescott, E. M. Forster, Osbert and Edith Sitwell, George Platt Lynes, Romaine Brooks, Virgil Thomson, and the painters George Tooker, Jared French, and Paul Cadmus. Kirstein’s letters to Pavlik were also unusually candid, and sometimes astonishingly acid, about George Balanchine and the goings-on at New York City Ballet, which Balanchine and Kirstein had cofounded.

Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine
Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine

What to do with this treasure-trove? One thought was to put out a new and revised version of the biography. But I soon learned that expanding a book that was already 723 pages would be prohibitively expensive. So I decided instead to condense the new findings into a couple of articles. The Gay & Lesbian Review seemed the best possible venue, since (I’m guessing) it has a readership already familiar with many of the figures who appear in the letters and likely to prove appreciative of Kirstein’s candid-camera takes on their personalities and accomplishments. The material falls rather naturally into two separate compartments: the world of the dance in general and the ballet in particular (this piece); and Kirstein’s frank appraisals of the personalities and accomplishments of the circle of gay artists in which he traveled (to follow in a forthcoming issue).


LINCOLN KIRSTEIN was born in 1907 to a newly prosperous Jewish couple—his father Louis had risen to a top executive post in Filene’s, the famed department store. As a young man, Kirstein was precocity personified. At age seventeen—as one of the new letters reveals—he wrote a friend that he was “very low—particularly because I get no time to go to the museum and when I do I get interested in brilliant conversation and never work; I haven’t done a decent drawing in years. … I’ve just about come to the conclusion that you must have the whole cake or none.” Soon thereafter, as an undergraduate at Harvard, he founded not only the avant-garde gallery, the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art—a precursor and model for New York City’s Museum of Modern Art—but also the Hound and Horn literary journal, which became an outstanding outlet for contemporary writing.

By the time he turned twenty, Kirstein had also become (in his words) “deeply addicted” to the ballet. Even as a child he’d seen Anna Pavlova dance, and on family trips to Europe when still a teenager, he’d continued to see a number of ballet troupes perform. (Some time later, he even took classes in New York with Michel Fokine, one of ballet’s most celebrated pioneers; Fokine did not encourage his dancing: “too big, too awkward, too old” was the gist of his message).

Arriving in London on his first solo trip to Europe in 1927, Kirstein’s ex-boyfriend, Howard Doughty (later the author of a distinguished biography of the historian Francis Parkman) met his ship dockside in Southampton. Together, they hit the ground running, filled with excitement. They made “intoxicating” visits to the National Gallery and the Tate, where, in between his adoration of Veronese and El Greco, Kirstein pointed out to Howard which lads wandering around the gallery he “would or would not like to go to bed with.” He wrote home—another newly surfaced letter—to Mina, his older sister and confidant, that “the people are perfectly charming and there is a great deal of male pulchritude, especially in young pups.”

By this point Kirstein had seen most of the repertoire of the Serge Diaghilev company—then the reigning sensation—including George Balanchine dancing the role of the wizard Kastchei in Firebird (as well as two pas de deux the young choreographer had done for another company). Nothing else moved him, Kirstein decided, as much as ballet, though all his life he would retain a passionate interest and involvement in the fine arts and would be highly regarded as a critic and connoisseur, an adviser to MoMA, and a champion (and financial supporter) of artists as diverse as Elie Nadelman and George Tooker.

But the ballet took precedence early on. Over the next few years, Kirstein kept returning to Europe, seeing every company, every leading dancer and choreographer, multiple times. (He became so knowledgeable that in 1935, while still in his twenties, he published a book titled Dance: A Short History of Classic Theatrical Dancing.) Though he saw much to admire, no one in his view compared with George Balanchine—with his “energy and invention prodigious.” With the death of Diaghilev in 1929 and the collapse of his company, the Ballets Russes, Kirstein began to harbor the dream—only the barest possibility, he knew—of himself creating a company, one that would be devoted above all else to Balanchine’s choreography.

Yet it wasn’t until 1933 that Kirstein and Balanchine actually met. The path had been tangled: as a result of helping Romola Nijinsky finish her biography of her husband Vaslav (in itself quite a tale), Kirstein gradually met a number of people close to Balanchine, including the designer “Bebe” Bérard, his companion, the director Boris Kochno, and the captious painter Pavel (“Pavlik”) Tchelitchev, who’d done decor and costumes for Balanchine’s current company Les Ballets 1933. Gradually, Kirstein was invited to sit in on rehearsals—during which Bérard plied him with “coarse” remarks, Kochno was “disdainful,” and Tchelitchev took considerable credit for the libretto to Errante, Balanchine’s most recent work.

Les Ballets 1933 had been made possible by the generosity of the wealthy English socialite Edward James. The bisexual, deeply eccentric James, an extraordinary character unto himself, deserves at least a brief sidebar where (he also deserves a biography). Kirstein initially patronized James as a mere dilettante who happened to have inherited great wealth from his father’s huge railroad holdings, but—as the two new collections of letters make clear—he soon changed his mind. James invited Kirstein to his legendary Sussex estate, West Dean Park, where he found the walls covered with fine early Dalis and Magrittes, as well as other avant-garde art. James, a pioneering and consistent supporter of surrealism, was himself a poet—Tchelitchev illustrated one volume of his verse—and the author as well of a rather well-received novel, The Gardener Who Saw God (1937). Kirstein was so impressed with the mansion and its beautifully kept grounds—a mere 6300 acres—that he talked at length with James about the importance of turning it into a national trust—which James eventually did (in 1964), creating a notable refuge for artists and craftsmen.

Kirstein’s relationship with James remained peripheral, unlike his immediate and lasting friendship with Tchelitchev. The latter relationship, in all its ups and downs, emerges, thanks to the two new manuscript collections, in rich detail. In their intensity, hyperactivity, and theatrical ardor, Kirstein and Pavlik had comparable temperaments, and Kirstein was especially drawn to Pavlik’s mesmerizing conversation—his description of a journalist as “a marinated white louse,” of a fashionable lady’s mouth as “the entrance to the Holland Tunnel,” of a rival’s eyes as reminding him of “two poached eggs in a urinal.” Counterbalancing Pavlik’s malice was his brilliance, his originality, and his willingness to pronounce himself a “monster”—”impossible” and “obsessed.” Kirstein would become convinced of Tchelitchev’s extraordinary gifts as a painter, and in the years ahead, as Pavlik’s once-bright reputation continued to fade, he would remain a staunch advocate. Like all intense relationships, the two men would have some bruising quarrels; the longest running ones had to do with Pavlik’s profound narcissism—nobody was ever sufficiently appreciative of his genius—but also involved Kirstein’s extreme distaste for Charles Henri Ford, Tchelitchev’s devoted partner (and co-author of The Young and the Evil, one of the earliest gay-themed novels), but their bond nonetheless would hold firm.

Though Kirstein had been gradually meeting many of the artists centrally connected to Balanchine, he had still not met Balanchine himself. The first occasion was quite accidental. After watching a performance of Balanchine’s 1932 ballet La Concurrence, Kirstein and some friends went back for drinks to Kirk and Constance Askew’s (he ran the New York branch of Durlacher Gallery, and the couple’s home in New York City became a fashionable salon). After a short time, the young choreographer Frederick Ashton, along with Balanchine, arrived. It was a small gathering and Kirstein was able to talk for some time with Balanchine, a man of deep reserve and few words. Kirstein found him “wholly charming,” though he worried that Balanchine “aspired through his teeth as if he really had T. B.” (He did, and a round of illness and alarums would follow). Balanchine even confided to Kirstein —perhaps testing the extent of his rapt devotion—that he hoped some day to come to the United States, that “with 20 girls & 5 men he could do wonders. Americans have great potential.”

That was enough for Kirstein. He went instantly into overdrive—which could be a fearsome sight—determined somehow to bring Balanchine to America and to start a new company for him. A mere three days later, the two men had lunch alone. This time they talked in considerably more detail about the prospects of Balanchine coming to America, and (as Kirstein wrote in his diary): “We got frightfully excited about it all. I visualized it so clearly. He wants so much to come … says it has always been his dream. He would give up everything to come.”

Kirstein was sold—was determined to bring Balanchine to the States. The details of what followed—the trials and tribulations, the harrowing yet exhilarating journey from a mere idea in 1933, through various incarnations (Ballet Caravan, Ballet Society, City Center, etc.), from the early establishment of the School of American Ballet and then, nearly twenty years later, of the New York City Ballet company—is closely tracked in The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein, and the recently uncovered material adds little to that part of the story. Where the new collections are significant is in what they reveal about Kirstein’s internal struggle in the later years, after the company had finally become securely established and Balanchine no longer needed his sponsorship.


IN THE FIRST FEW YEARS following Balanchine’s arrival in the States late in 1933, Kirstein wholly immersed himself in the back-to-back crises, artistic and personal, that seemed to descend without letup, and which threw into serious doubt the entire notion of forming an American ballet. For much of the first year, Balanchine’s precarious health alone threatened to sink the ship; he himself tended to minimize the seriousness of his condition, but Kirstein knew better and had to constantly play nursemaid, ensuring Balanchine’s comfort, watching over his diet, shuttling him from one doctor’s office to the next—even as he puzzled over the specialists’ contradictory diagnoses. At one point a specialist found “two active but diminishing spots” on Balanchine’s lungs and prescribed injections of insulin that the previous specialist had advised against. To avoid alarming the patient, Kirstein—even while fretting over the contradictory diagnoses and elusive prescriptions—had to control his own considerable mood swings (later in life he’d be diagnosed with bipolar disorder); when a mutual acquaintance of Kirstein and W. H. Auden would later ask about his “erratic” behavior, Auden replied, “everyone has moods and Lincoln’s should be respected. Lincoln always means well … he’s a very good man.”

When his health finally stabilized, Balanchine had a burst of creative energy. No one was more thrilled than Kirstein. For three years in the early ‘30s, Balanchine and the fledging company (which called itself the American Ballet) provided the dance interludes at the Metropolitan Opera, which led to a full-scale production of Balanchine’s Orpheus (with Tchelitchev’s set and costume designs). As a result, Balanchine started to get commercial offers and signed on to do a Broadway show, On Your Toes, an enormous success, that led to still other assignments to choreograph musicals, including Rodgers and Hart’s Babes in Arms.

Balanchine’s prime allegiance remained with building a solid American ballet company and school, and though the detour to Broadway alarmed Kirstein, it also gave him a chance to exercise more of his own talents. He picked some dozen dancers already attached to the American Ballet, and for a few months out of each year over the next four, toured the country with the “Ballet Caravan.” Kirstein’s conviction that Balanchine stood head-and-shoulders above all other choreographers hadn’t weakened: the Caravan primarily performed and spread awareness of the master’s genius. That genius, in Kirstein’s view, uniquely centered on the virtuosic body in stark, swift, clean motion, unconnected to sentimental narration, with movement an end in itself, devoid of anything superfluous.

At the same time, Kirstein initially harbored the hope of including ballets that had at least the outlines of a traditional scenario, and in particular with identifiably American content that referenced everyday life. With the Ballet Caravan under Kir-stein’s exclusive control, it became possible for him to commission and to contribute to works with strong narrative elements. Many have become standards in the ballet repertoire: Lew Christenson and Elliott Carter’s Pocahontas; Eugene Loring and Paul Bowles’ Yankee Clipper; Christenson and Virgil Thomson’s Filling Station; and Loring and Aaron Copland’s Billy the Kid.

Kirstein continued to value Balanchine no less than in the past, but we now know (thanks to the new material) that his experience in running the Caravan gave him a new confidence. In a letter to Tchelitchev, he vowed that henceforth he would “criticize and be harsh with him [Balanchine] when I feel like it … instead of being scared by his uniqueness and genius.” Yet by the time Balanchine had finished with Broadway and returned full-time to the fold, Kirstein’s interest in exploring the American past had sharply diminished. It wasn’t a matter of Balanchine compelling adherence to his neoclassical vision, but rather (in part) the result of Kirstein’s lessening interest in left-wing politics after the 1930s. Unlike Kirstein, Balanchine was politically conservative and deeply religious, and when he turned, briefly, to American subjects in his ballets Western Symphony (1954) and Stars and Stripes (1958), it would be in a spirit of joie de vivre rather than moral earnestness.

Kirstein had also come to realize that he was temperamentally ill-suited to the demands of managing a touring company. The Houghton Library’s vast new collection of family letters tells us a good deal more than we’ve previously known about the Ballet Caravan and Kirstein’s mounting exasperation with it (as well as providing some fine examples of his wit). Brilliant, deeply serious, and widely read, he never lost his “affection” toward the Caravan, but in the last year of touring especially, he developed, to his own shock, “certain sudden murderous instincts” toward his “little troupe.” “I can’t stand easily,” he wrote home, “the unremitting gaiety and good clean fun of one and all.” He sometimes felt “like I was on a small tramp steamer with a co-educational high school during a calm that lasted for days.” When the Caravan reached North Dakota and Montana, he drolly wrote his sister Mina that they were “scenic states with beauteous fjords and waving savannas”—i.e. “the most desolate, bone-dry dreary landscape I ever saw.” His only comfort was that the train food was inexpensive: Swiss steak and whipped potatoes for $.65.

When he gave up the Caravan in 1938, Kirstein confessed in a letter to his mother that it was “much, much harder than giving up the Hound & Horn [his earlier literary journal]for which” it had turned out, there was “no public.” The Caravan, to the contrary, did have an audience, he felt: “night after night we see our public—only there’s not enough of them … it’s too bad to quit just on the brink of something [but]there’s no use of wailing.” Ballet could only make money, he concluded, if done on a large scale, which meant finding the resources to further build the American Ballet company. He didn’t relish the prospect of returning to his role of second (or third) fiddle: “Everything connected with the stage,” he wrote his parents, “fascinates me, but I hardly ever see it now. Someone else, anyone else, could manage the mechanical side better than me, but there isn’t anyone else in my position. The thing has to have a head and I’m it.”

After the touring finally came to an end in 1938, Kirstein suddenly came up with a new idea, one that might, on the side, serve as a more creative outlet than “laying out the master’s clothes.” Still interested, if to a lesser degree, in leftwing politics—much later, he would join the Selma March—he came up with a “divine” idea for a new ballet he called “Memorial Day”; its theme, “democracy in crisis”—as represented through Civil War iconography. He planned to write the libretto himself and asked his friend Aaron Copland, with whom he would always have a good relationship, to write the score—a commission Copland accepted enthusiastically. For a time the project consumed him; he sent his sister Mina letter after letter (all in the new Houghton collection) detailing his progress and using her as a sounding board for his ideas.

He was especially keen to get Mina’s take on the possibility of getting the Mercury Theater—John Houseman (who’d been Mina’s lover) had in 1937 co-founded the Mercury with 21-year-old Orson Welles—to put on “Memorial Day” first as a concert, and then for a theatrical run. Though Mina had also come through at the last minute with a crucial donation that allowed the legendary Houseman/Marc Blitzstein production of The Cradle Will Rock to open, she wasn’t able to interest Houseman in “Memorial Day.”

Kirstein, in fact, had all along had a low opinion of Houseman; at one point, when describing him to Mina, Kirstein made a telling, and uniquely revealing, comparison: Houseman, he wrote, is “as negligible and as corrupt as Balanchine, except George is a cynic, disinterested, sick and has genius.” It’s a comparison that takes the breath away. There’s no way of knowing how Kirstein, in his own mind, was defining “negligible” and “corrupt.” but clearly in no way was that complimentary, thereby revealing an occasional bitterness toward Balanchine—it was never a steady state—the depth of which hasn’t previously been known.

In the upshot, Kirstein revised and redrafted his libretto for “Memorial Day,” accepting many of Mina’s suggestions for revision, though he came to see the whole project as “very pretentious.” No one, in any case, proved willing to showcase it. Disappointed, he went back to working in the traces, once again focusing his attention full-time on developing the American Ballet School and company.

After World War II—in which Kirstein served as a private and ended up being one of the Monuments Men who discovered the huge Nazi horde of stolen art buried in the Altaussee mine—the ballet company reconstituted as a unit connected to the City Center, the large mosque-like building on West 55th Street devoted to cultural events—and to low ticket prices. In Morton Baum, Kirstein found a sympathetic head, but City Center lacked the resources to allow the ballet to have an extended season, much less a permanent home. Yet by 1950 the company had achieved enough prominence and recognition for London’s prestigious Covent Garden to offer them a five week engagement.

It proved enormously successful, and Kirstein, in a published article, brilliantly pinpointed why the company’s unique style—Balanchine’s style—had finally gained the recognition it deserved. His distinction lay, in Kirstein’s words, in “a leanness, a visual asceticism, a candour … and sometimes a galvanizing, acetylene brilliance, a deep potential of incalculable human strength.” What fascinated Balanchine, Kirstein wrote, “was the human body’s instinctive, yet scarcely unconscious, expression of its era—our corsetless, all but skirtless, princeless era, where good social and theatrical manners are more a problem of individual obligation and affection than the reflection of the devotion for, or authority felt resident in, sovereign or system.”

Steadfast and unwavering in his public praise of Balanchine—and he meant every word of it—privately, we now know, Kirstein would occasionally let loose to Pavlik Tchelitchev his accumulated hurt over the master’s dismissive treatment. In the correspondence that’s recently surfaced at the University of Texas, Kirstein let Pavlik know that during the ongoing negotiations with City Center, he’d “counted so much on his [Balanchine’s] aid, and in a way, I felt somewhat deserted by him.” Kirstein freely acknowledged that he could tell “what is wrong after I see it; but he [Balanchine] knows before, and he has the authority to work with the musicians which I will never have.” Yet at the same time, Balanchine seemed to Kirstein oblivious to the company’s everyday problems, which required constant tending, and unappreciative of the grueling toll it took on his own time and energy. “Perhaps I wrong him,” he wrote Pavlik, “But he is like ice; and his genius for composition is unsupported by taste or intellectual curiosity.”


HOMOSEXUALITY, though omnipresent in the ballet world, seems never to have surfaced in any explicit way as an issue between Kirstein and Balanchine. In 1941, Kirstein married Paul Cadmus’ sister Fidelma, yet neither before nor after the marriage did he stop having sex and sometimes falling in love with men. The dancer Pete Martinez, one of the great loves of Kirstein’s life in the late ’30s and early ’40s, not only lived with the Kirsteins for a time but became a close and trusted friend to Fidelma. Later, the painter and curator Jensen Yow would fill a similar role.

Whether and to what extent these relationships (and others) were ever discussed between Kirstein and Fidelma remains unknown. When I wrote The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein, Paul Cadmus was already dead, but I talked at length with his long-term partner, Jon Anderson, who told me that Paul’s sense was that Fidelma understood early on that “Lincoln simply needed his close relationships with men—and that was that.”

One could argue—if intent on categorization—that Kirstein might best be viewed as “bisexual.” He’d had affairs with women early in his twenties, including one of profound importance to him with the cultural doyenne, Muriel Draper. That he cared deeply as well for Fidelma seemed “certain” to Paul Cadmus, who also felt that their relationship, at least during the early years of the marriage, was sexual. As I wrote in my book, “the cynical conclusion would be that Lincoln married in order to foster his career. Yet that seems too cynical, given how little he would bother to cover up his homosexual activities—and how much he genuinely cared for Fidelma.”

What seems nearly as certain is that to Balanchine homosexuality was simply incomprehensible—of no interest, and vaguely suspect. Distant and reserved by nature, Balanchine rarely discussed his or anybody else’s private life, yet he of course knew that male (not female) homosexuality was commonplace in the ballet world. We get an indirect clue to Balanchine’s attitude towards it in the figure of Vladimir Dimitriev, his most trusted adviser in the early years of his arrival in the States. Dimitriev proved a relentless advocate for Balanchine’s business interests; and he was no less outspoken about Kirstein’s homosexuality. Kirstein became deeply infatuated with one of the school’s first students, Harry “Bosco” Dunham, a “small blonde from Ohio” in his early twenties who’d already had an affair with Paul Bowles (who warned Kirstein that Bosco was “nuts—that sitting down in a chair was drama to him”). Until Bosco came along, Kirstein had been so preoccupied with the multiple issues relating to putting the ballet on its feet, that for a considerable period he’d been celibate. (He wrote in his diary: “Streets full of sailors and marines. I keep my eyes neatly averted.”) But Kirstein found Bosco “wholly charming” and noted in his diary “the unmistakable solar plexus pains of strong attraction and longing which I have not felt since I can’t remember and which I thought up to now were forever dulled by jacking off and concentration.” Bosco responded in kind, but he proved wildly unpredictable and soon left the school and the city. (He would die in World War II).

But while Bosco was still in attendance at the school, Dimitriev became aware that he and Kirstein were having an affair. Kirstein discovered, somehow, that Dimitriev had been opening his mail—including his lovesick letters to Bosco. Shocked, he confronted Dimitriev, who—instead of expressing apologies and regret—“made fun” of Kirstein’s predilections. “I can’t understand Americans,” Dimitriev boldly told him. “I’ve been here five months and have only met pederasts. Were all Americans queer?” Yes, Kirstein angrily replied, “We are the nation of the great intermediates” (he’d been reading Havelock Ellis). And he decided on the spot that henceforth “no intimacy would be possible” with Dimitriev, and he would confine their interaction to “an efficient working school and business basis.”

Soon thereafter, Kirstein noticed a tone of “slight contempt” from Balanchine when the two of them talked. Unlike Dimitriev, who was something of a bull in a china shop, Balanchine’s style was indirect, coolly dismissive. Yet the contempt was unmistakable, and it left Kirstein feeling “loose and worried” and prone to nightmares (in one, “Balanchine a murderer; myself shipwrecked. Disaster and guilt all around”). What’s more, Balanchine’s depreciatory attitude toward him carried over into their work together. He had expected a collaboration; what he got was an off-handed assignment to raise money and attend to the multiple small tasks of an administrative assistant. In one of the newly acquired letters, Kirstein poignantly reveals how deeply wounded he had felt all of his adult life at Balanchine’s patronizing view of him. And it’s important to keep in mind that Kirstein wasn’t a whiner and never indulged in self-pity:


Balanchine returned. … He is as cold as ice. … I can’t expect that his nature would change. … With me, it is no use; I neither interest or amuse him, and he has no basis upon which we can speak … it makes me feel sad that I can talk with all the other people with whom I work, and George seems to have no interest … the only thing he really loves is music … for this he has a passion, and it is wonderful and disinterested, but on the other things, he leaves me alone—with no trace of caring.


Kirstein’s suffering, not unfamiliar to several generations, rises in remonstrance against those “superior” others who have for so long, and casually, inflicted it.

In all the long years that followed, the basic contours of the Kirstein-Balanchine relationship remained constant. An occasional business lunch or dinner aside, the two men never became friends, nor even socialized other than incidentally. Kirstein always retained his profound conviction of Balanchine’s genius, and he devoted himself to creating the most ideal circumstances possible for its expression. His zeal did occasionally falter—the result of emotional exhaustion or the demands of his own multiple projects—but his central conviction of Balanchine’s unmatchable brilliance held steady. When Balanchine died in April, 1983, Kirstein stepped in front of the curtain the following night and told a hushed audience, in a voice that slightly trembled, that Balanchine “is with Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and Stravinsky. I do want to tell you how much he valued this audience, this marvelous audience. … You kept us going fifty years, and will another fifty. One thing he didn’t want was that this be interrupted. We will proceed.” And Kirstein did, until his own death in January, 1996.


Martin Duberman, professor emeritus of history and the founder of clags, is the author of some two dozen books. His latest book, Jews/Queers/Germans, is forthcoming.