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How the American Ballet Theatre Works

American Ballet Theatre History

The storied (and sometimes stormy) history of the American Ballet Theatre began as the Great Depression was ending. The ABT began as the Mordkin Ballet in 1937. In 1939, co-founder Lucia Chase and set designer Oliver Smith changed the name to Ballet Theatre and reorganized the company. Their goal: to develop a repertoire of classical ballets and also to encourage young choreographers to create new works. The Ballet Theatre first took the stage in January 1940 at Radio City Music Hall. In 1956, the company changed its name to American Ballet Theatre. The move north to the Metropolitan Opera House followed soon after.

Chase and Smith put their stamp on the ABT by remaining at the helm as artistic directors from 1940 to 1980. During these four decades, the ABT defined American dance, staging works by the 20th century's foremost choreographers, among them Twyla Tharp and Antony Tudor. Groundbreaking works included "Push Comes to Shove" and "Duets." Mikhail Baryshnikov took over as artistic director in 1980 and stayed until 1989. During his tenure, Baryshnikov worked to redefine the company's classical repertoire, reworking and restaging the classics. When Baryshnikov left, Smith returned and became a co-director, along with Jane Hermann. During their two years working together, Smith and Hermann tried to maintain the traditions of the past while creating an innovative future.

Just as the American Ballet Theatre has expanded the boundaries of dance, it has expanded the boundaries of its domain, too. The ABT has undertaken 15 international tours to more than 40 countries. In 1960, the ABT visited the Soviet Union and became the first American company to perform there. The group visited China for the first time in 2000, performing in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Taipei and Singapore were also on the agenda during that trip.

How can you get involved with the ABT? On the next page, we'll discuss how you can help the company, even if you've got two left feet.