George Balanchine, born George Balanchivadze, Russian choreographer, often considered the father of American ballet, founded the American Ballet Theatre, and co-founded the New York City Ballet. Click here for a short documentary on Balanchine, or here for former ballerina Heather Watts’ Ted talk on how important Balanchine was to American ballet.
You can also look at the George Balanchine Foundation.
Here is a YouTube documentary in which principal dancer Ashley Boulder talks about what it is like to prepare for and to dance Serenade. And here is Serenade, written by Tchaikovsky and choreographed by Balanchine, and danced by the NYC Ballet.
The sisters Brontë: Charlotte (1816-1855) Emily (1818-1848), and Anne (1820-1849) (the link leads to a Youtube documentary). As women, they first wrote under pen names: Currer, Ellis, and Anton Bell. Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre; Emily wrote Wuthering Heights; Anne wrote The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
Truman Capote (1924-1984), was an American writer, known for writing Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, the latter of which established the new genres of true crime and non-fiction novels. Many have speculated that Harper Lee based the character of Dill (in her novel To Kill a Mockingbird), on her childhood friend, Capote
Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), is the author of Don Quixote, and regarded as one of the great writers, and in particular one of the greatest if not the greatest Spanish writer. Don Quixote is considered one of the classics in Western literature, and greatly influenced the Spanish language itself. Don Quixote has been translated into more languages than has any other book except the Bible.
The story follows a noble named Alonso Quixano who read so many chivalric stories that he loses this mind, and decides to restore valor and justice and honor to the world.
Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) was an Italian operatic tenor who was tremendously successful in a career in both Europe and the U.S. He was particularly successful at the Metropolitan Opera, in part because he understood the market of opera, and was willing to be recorded, he was willing to sign autographs, etc.. He participated in the first radio broadcast in the U.S.
Click here to listen to Caruso (youtube).
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Chaikovskij) (1840-1893)was a Russian composer during the Romantic period, greatly favored by Tsar Alexander III because of his emphasis on reclaiming Russian music.
You can listen to the youtube video “The Best of Tchaikovsky.”
- Swan Lake:
- Nutcracker, Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies
Frédéric François Chopin (1810-1949), was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist of the Romantic era. He maintained a rocky romantic relationship with the French writer Amantine Dupin (known by her pen name George Sand).
The following clip is from The Nocturnes, Op 9 No 2 in E-Flat Major:
Salvador Dalí (1904-1989), is a Spanish surrealist painter. His best known work, The Persistence of Memory (above), painted in 1931, is at the MOMA in NYC.
Dali was imaginative and impulsive, and often engaged in behavior that drew both positive and negative attention. He was well known for his trademark flamboyant moustache. His longtime companion and then wife, Gala, became his muse.
Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was a French composer, often described as composing in the “impressionist” style–that is, like painters of the same era, evoking a mood using harmony and tone. Debussy himself did not describe himself that way, though it is true that by the late 1880s, he was drawn to the symbolist poets and impressionist painters of France, and began to move away from the explicit emotional content of Romanticism.
Edgar Degas (1834-1917) was a French painter and drawer. Often classified as an “Impressionist,” Degas himself rejected that label, preferring to describe himself as a “Realist” or an “Independent.” Nonetheless, he was a leader of the Impressionist school, eschewing landscapes for scenes of every day life, often indoors with artificial lighting. His is particular known for his pictures of ballet dancers.
Charles Dickens was a British author of fifteen novels, and dozens of stories and essays. He wrote Oliver Twist (1838), David Copperfield (1849-1850), A Tale of Two Cities (1859) and Great Expectations (1861). His 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, has been adapted to stage and film countless times, featuring the rehabilitation of the well-known humbug character of Scrooge.
The term “Dickensian” is often used to describe the themes or traits of characters in Dickens’ work, such as poor social conditions, or comically unlikable characters.
Walt Disney (1901-1966) was an American entrepreneur, animator, voice actor, and film producer.
Things you might not know about Walt Disney:
- He forged the date on his birth certificate in order to appear old enough to join in WWI as an ambulance driver, but arrived in France after the armistice.
- Disney wanted to name his mouse character Mortimer Mouse, but his wife Lillian thought that sounded too pompous. Mickey appears in the first post-production sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie.
- A group of core animators, the “Nine Old Men,” created some of Disney’s most famous animated films or cartoons, from Snow White to The Rescuers. Two (Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas) many years later had cameo appearances in The Incredibles.
- In 1931, Disney’s original animation partner, Ub Iwerks, and his composer, Carl Stalling, left the partnership to work directly for a former executive of Universal Pictures who had served as the team’s distributor. Disney was so distraught that he and his wife had to take an extended holiday to Cuba and Panama to recover. Disney upon his return was able to partner with Columbia Studios. Iwerks returned in 1940. Stalling went on to work for Warner Brothers, on Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts.
- Disney holds the record for most Academy Awards for production (22 wins from 59 nominations).
- Several of his films are included in the National Film Registry of the library of Congress, including:
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs;
- Steamboat Willie;
- The Living Desert;
- Fantasia (you can watch an overview trailer, or a clip focused on Mickey’s magic broom, or, (if you are brave) watch rather terrifying Pink Elephants on Parade);
- Dumbo; (you can watch the scene where Mrs. Dumbo goes over the edge, trying to protect her baby; “Baby Mine,” when Dumbo sees his mama again; and the crows sing “When I See an Elephant Fly“)
- 20,0000 Leagues Under the Sea (see trailer);
- Beauty and the Beast (because NO ONE says no to Gaston);
- Mary Poppins (supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!);
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit?;
- Lion King (influenced by Shakespeare’s Hamlet; see the trailer here);
- and Toy Story (trailer).
- A life-action version of Dumbo, directed by Tim Burton, is scheduled to be released in the Spring of 2019; a live-action Lion King is scheduled for July 2019; and Guy Richie is directing a live-action Aladdin.
- When industry insiders heard that Disney was producing a full-length movie version of Snow White (rather than a cartoon short), people were so sure it would bankrupt the company that they called it Disney’s Folly. It did come in three times over budget, but was one of the most successful films of all time. Shirley Temple gave Mr. Disney his special Academy Award for the film. You can also see a CBC interview with Disney about Snow White, making cartoons, and other subjects.)
- Disney produced several propaganda films during World War Two, such as Der Fuehrer’s Face (with Donald Duck, which one the Academy Award for best animated short subject of 1943) and Victory Through Air Power.
- Disney testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), where he accused three former animators and union organizers as being communist agitators (based primarily on the fact that they had in 1941 organized an animator’s strike when the company attempted to cut their pay.) Indeed, documents unsealed in 1993 indicate that Disney served as an informer for Hoover’s FBI from 1940 until 1966. (Time Magazine has an excellent essay on how Disney’s perspective during the 1940s.)
- Disney was in financial straights through much of his life.
- Song of the South is the only Disney film never released on DVD in the United States, in large part because it had parts that, for example, showed happy slaves (or perhaps sharecroppers–it is unclear whether it took place before 1863, or immediately after the Civil War) singing songs (“Let the rain pour down! Let the cold win blow! Gonna stay right here in the home I know!”). The famous “Zip-A-Dee-Dah” is from this movie. It portrayed a plantation in Georgia of the 1800s. James Baskett (1904-1948) played both the lead role of Uncle Remus and the voice role for the character Brer Rabbit, one of the film’s antagonists. However, because of legal segregation in the South, neither he nor co-star Hattie McDanielik was not allowed in 1946 to attend the movie’s premiere in Atlanta. In March 1948, shortly before he died, Baskett won an Honorary Academy Award for his work.
- Disney had a steam engine track built in his backyard, but had to put it into storage, after accidents involving guests.
- The author of the book series about Mary Poppins loathed the movie version.
- EPCOT stands for the “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.” However, after his death, Roy Disney (Walt’s brother) changed the project from a town to an attraction. EPCOT, like many other Disney parks, is getting a redesign–read about rumors here.
- Wayne Allwine, who was the voice actor for Mickey for over three decades (1966-2009), was married to Russi Taylor, who has voiced Minnie since 1986. (Click here to see a brief clip of an interview.)
- An asteroid discovered in 1980 was named 4017 Disneya.
Dostoevskij (Fyodor Dostoevsky) (1821-1881) was a Russian author who wrote several essays and novels, including Crime and Punishment (1866), and The Brothers Karamazov (1879-1880). Dostoevsky wrote his first novel, Poor Folk, in 1845, and it met with some success. His second novel, The Double (1846) was less well-received, as were a series of short stories he published across the next two years. He was arrested in 1849 for membership in a literary group called the Petrashevsky Circle, which discussed the elimination of serfdom, and was a reading group for books that were banned in Tsarist Russia (the Tsar was the absolute ruler of Russia). Tsar Nicolas I feared any flicker of the beginning of a revolution like the Decembrist revolt of 1825, or the revolutions spreading across Europe in 1848. He was sentenced to death, but at the very last minute, he was given a reprieve, spending four years in a Siberian prison camp, and six more of compulsory military service in exile.
Dostoevsky spent most of his life deeply in debt, in part because of an addiction to gambling. Dostoevsky, who strongly identified as an ethnic indigenous Russian, also was xenophobic, exhibiting hostility to Jews, Ottoman Turks, and other groups.
Many of Dostoevsky’s works focus on the chaotic political and economic context of 19th century Russia, including poverty, despair, suicide, and ethics / morality. There was a theme of religiosity and psychology in many of his works: how do humans react to the events around them, and what is their nature, and what is their relationship to the divine?
For example, Crime and Punishment deals with the anguish and moral dilemmas of a poor ex-student in St. Petersburg tries to convince himself that killing a corrupt pawnbroker is a morally justifiable killing. Read here for an excellent summary of its plot and theme, and an explanation of what a new translation of the work contributes.
A constant theme in Dostoevsky’s work was man’s capacity for perhaps predictable, but irrational behavior–that scientific reasoning could not explain human behavior. People, Dostoevsky believed, could not really even begin to understand, much less articulate, why they wanted the things they wanted.