George Balanchine died a year ago April. Last July the Ballet Master of the New York City Ballet, John Taras, was finally persuaded by Mikhail Baryshnikov to join the American Ballet Theater. In a recent interview with Dancemagazine, Taras observed that with Balanchine gone “things will not be the same.” How right he was. The New York City Ballet waited only a year and a half to dishonor the memory of their master. They recently sent to Italy a reduced company of dancers, bravely flying the Balanchine flag, in order to bolster the European reputation of the company. By all ac­counts, they could just as well have stayed home. The scaled-down productions put on in impossible locations were more like vaudeville than ballet. The most unintentionally surreal performance was given in an abandoned velo­ drome. Since the bleachers had been given over to plantings of trees and bushes, plastic chairs had to be brought in for seating. As The Economist de­scribed the effect, it was “more a giggle than a gig.” This travesty of Balanchine’s choreography was part of a celebration of the Italian Communist Party’s festa dell’ unita.

It’s too bad Balanchine couldn’t have been there to see it. Before his defection in I924, he had danced in performances given for the party leadership in the Soviet Union. Waiting in the wings, he would hear snatches of fervent debates. To the end of his days, he used to enter­ tain friends with his imitations of Trotsky. The aesthetic commissars of the
U.S.S.R were not ready for Balanchine’s innovations in dance. Even in I959 the chief choreographer of the Bolshoi arrogantly informed Balanchine that his work would be condemned back home as”mere formalism.”

Balanchine loved his American home. The State Department had to work hard to convince him that it was his patriotic duty as an American citizen to take the company to the Soviet Union in 1962. The emigre’s hostility to communism and to the Soviet regime was unbending. Throughout his successful tour, when­ ever he was hailed as a great Russian, he always responded—in pre-1917 Russian—with a denial. No, he was only an American. In his native city of St. Petersburg (now Leningrad) he was hailed as a conquering hero, a home­ town boy who made good. He accepted the tribute—not for himself, he said, but on behalf of the United States and New York City.

Balanchine was a great American, a deeply religious man, and a militant anticommunist. The New York City Ballet’s clowning for the Italian communists is worse than bad taste. The aims of the Italian Party are no different from those of their Russian brethren who drove and are still driving so many artists, musicians, writers, and dancers into exile. In putting itself at the service of the Party, the NYCB demonstrates once again the connection between artistic integrity and moral conscience: bad faith makes bad art.