Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: MS Thr 411

George Balanchine archive


Papers documenting the American career of Russian-American choreographer George Balanchine. Also includes records of the New York City Ballet (1948-1987), and records of the George Balanchine Foundation and the George Balanchine Trust (1983-1989).


  • 1924-1989
  • Majority of material found within 1961-1983

Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material.


63.3 linear feet (114 boxes and 2 framed items)

The archive includes business and personal papers of George Balanchine from his American years (1933-1983). The only exception is an agreement, signed by Balanchine and a group of young dancers upon leaving Russia in 1924. The archive also includes business correspondence of the New York City Ballet from the time of its establishment in 1948 to 1989. A small part of the archive concerns the operations of the George Balanchine Foundation established three month after Balanchine's death in 1983, and the George Balanchine Trust formed in 1987 to facilitate the licensing of George Balanchine works throughout the world. The papers were compiled by a number of Balanchine's secretaries and personal assistants. There are very little strictly personal Balanchine papers, though his professional and personal lives were highly intertwined. The current arrangement was created with this consideration in mind.

Series I: Balanchine's business and most of his personal correspondence was conducted on his behalf by company managers and his personal assistants, very few letters are signed by him personally. It encompasses a broad range of matters: from requests of employment and recommendations for dancers, choreographers and musicians to negotiations of terms of engagements for his services as choreographer for a number of European companies; from discussing touring arrangements for himself and the New York City Ballet to giving permissions for other companies to perform his ballets; from fund raising and grant proposals to outlines of national campaigns in support of dance companies and dance education throughout the U.S. As the popularity of the New York City Ballet grew, more and more universities, publishers, magazines, scholars, writers, composers, as well as dance professionals all over the world approached Balanchine for his opinion and support of their projects.

Series II: Dance notations of Balanchine's ballets were created by notators of the Dance Notation Bureau (New York, N.Y.) and the Benesh Institute of Choreology Ltd. in London, with the approvals of George Balanchine, in an effort to create records from which ballet could be taught and recreated. Notation scores were drafted during rehearsals and performances; in this archive they are supplemented with music scores with extensive notes.

Series III: As a young man, Balanchine studied music as well as dance. For a while, he was choosing between a career of a professional musician and a dancer. Throughout his life, he continued to study music, play piano and compose music. This series, Music scores, contains scores of some of his songs and drafts of piano reductions of compositions by other composers. It also contains music scores for several of his ballets and Broadway musicals, which he choreographed in the 1940s.

Series IV: This series of Collected compositions contains predominantly compositions for ballet, but also several scenarios of Broadway plays, and a few essays. None of the compositions are by Balanchine; several are stories for his ballets, or his unrealized projects.

Series V: Contracts in this series reflect the growing demand for Balanchine's ballets in America and all over the world. From the late 1960s, the New York City Ballet began to issue both contracts to every company requesting permission to perform ballets by Balanchine, and licensing agreements for repetiteurs of his ballets. After his death in 1983, agreements were issued first by the George Balanchine Foundation, and then by the George Balanchine Trust .

Series VI: Financial records is another example of the inseparability of Balanchine's personal and professional lives. The series contains a mixture of records for his business and personal expenses, records of medical and property insurances, pension plans, and extensive paperwork for tax returns for Balanchine and his wife, Tanaquil Le Clercq.

Series VII: Photographs in this series contain photographs of Balanchine and of the New York City Ballet dancers, but the majority of them are of other dancers and companies. Most of the photographs came from the closed Ziegfeld Book Shop in New York. It is not clear what was the relationship between the shop and Balanchine, and why the photographs came with his archive.

Series VIII: Very few programs in this series represent the New York City Ballet. Most of the programs are of other American and foreign companies.

Series IX: Clippings in this series were kept in their original order and state. Most of them concern the New City Ballet dancers and George Balanchine. Clippings found with the correspondence files were not moved to this series, but kept with the letters.

Series X: The periodicals series contains magazines on dance and other cultural matters.

Series XI: Audiovisual material includes master tapes of the program Balanchine essays filmed by the Tatge/Lasseur Productions company in 1986. This tapes provide visual discussion of Balanchine technique by prominent dancers and teachers of the New York City Ballet. Also included are two short audio programs on Balanchine and dance history.

Series XII: Biographical material in this series includes: personal documents included in the archive; correspondence on various matters concerning his career such as invitations to receive awards, give lectures, or serve on various committees; biographical essays and entries for several encyclopedias; his autograph notes on dance and choreography; awards and honorary degrees; and documentation regarding his funeral and memorial services. It also includes a few objects.

Biographical / Historical

George Balanchine (1904-1983) was a Russian-American dancer and choreographer. In 1921 he graduated from the Theatre School in Petrograd. He left Russia in 1924, and the same year he was engaged by Serge Diaghilev as a choreographer for his company Ballets Russes. After the death of Serge Diaghilev in 1929, Balanchine unsuccessfully tried to establish his own company in Europe. He came to the United States at the invitation of Lincoln Kirstein (1907-1996) in 1933. The following year they founded the School of American Ballet. Collaboration with Kirstein also resulted in the founding of the American Ballet Caravan (1941), the Ballet Society (1946), and the New York City Ballet (1948). From that time until his death, Balanchine served as artistic director of the New York City Ballet, choreographing the majority of its productions. In 1983, five months after Balanchine's death, the George Balanchine Foundation was incorporated, and in 1987 the George Balanchine Trust was established to facilitate the licensing of George Balanchine's works around the world.


Arranged into the following series:

  1. I. Correspondence
  2. II. Dance notations
  3. III. Music scores
  4. IV. Collected compositions
  5. V. Contracts
  6. VI. Financial records
  7. VII. Photographs
  8. VIII. Souvenir programs
  9. IX. Clippings
  10. X. Periodicals
  11. XI. Audiovisual material
  12. XII. Biographical material
  13. Xlll. Additions to collection

Physical Location

b, framed storage

Immediate Source of Acquisition

91-92.192. Gift of Barbara Horgan and the George Balanchine Trust; received: 1992 March 25.

2018MT-086. Gift of the Estate of Robert B. Emerson in December 2017.

Processing Information

Processed by Irina Klyagin.

Addition processed by Magdaline Lawhorn, February 2018.

Balanchine, George. George Balanchine archive, 1924-1989 (MS Thr 411): Guide.
Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, archives, and more. Houghton Library's collections represent the scope of human experience from ancient Egypt to twenty-first century Cambridge. With strengths primarily in North American and European history, literature, and culture, collections range in media from printed books and handwritten manuscripts to maps, drawings and paintings, prints, posters, photographs, film and audio recordings, and digital media, as well as costumes, theater props, and a wide range of other objects. Houghton Library has historically focused on collecting the written record of European and Eurocentric North American culture, yet it holds a large and diverse number of primary sources valuable for research on the languages, culture and history of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Houghton Library’s Reading Room is free and open to all who wish to use the library’s collections.

Harvard Yard
Harvard University
Cambridge MA 02138 USA
(617) 495-2440