George Balanchine “And The Others”: The Westport Years

In the early 1950s, according to Barry Katz’s Weston Arabesque,  an “unimposing cottage” at 10 Ridge Road in Weston became, “in a quiet way, the center of the ballet world.” It was home to George Balanchine, perhaps the greatest choreographer of the 20th century.

In 1946 Balanchine had purchased 7 acres of land there, for $8,500. After he married ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq — she was his 4th or 5th wife, depending on how you count — “they began the arduous task of taming the wildly overgrown property,” Katz writes.

George Balanchine

George Balanchine

“Later that same year they put up a house. It was a modest, one story pre-fab – all they could afford at the time – but it suited their needs exactly. Weston proved to be the ideal retreat from the pressures of the city, and the couple spent as much time there as they could.”

They gardened together, and Balanchine built a tool shed with his own hands. “He was an avid and ambitious gourmet cook, and even enjoyed doing laundry,” Katz says.

“Part of his time in Weston was devoted to reading scores…. And he created new ballets in his head while breathing the fragrant country air.”

In 1956, on a New York City Ballet tour of Europe, Le Clercq contracted polio. She spent the last 45 years of her life in a wheelchair.

Balanchine added a ramp to their Weston house. He did not work for a year after her diagnosis, caring for her himself.

In 1969 the couple divorced. Balanchine had fallen in love with a new ballerina, Suzanne Farrell. But, Katz says, he “always remained deeply concerned for her welfare and stayed in close touch. In fact, he remained close with all his ex-wives.”

That intriguing bit of Balanchiniana is relevant now — 40 years later — because tickets go on sale this week for a new play, Nikolai and the Others. Commissioned by Lincoln Center Theater — with previews beginning April 4 — it takes place in 1948.

And the setting is Westport.

Nikolai and the Others

In Richard Nelson’s play at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, a close-knit group of Russian emigres — including Balanchine, composer Igor Stravinsky, his wife Vera, conductor Serge Koussevitsky, and composer Nikolai Nabokov — eat, drink and talk.

Playwright Nelson imagines the relationships between Balanchine and Stravinsky — and their friends, lovers, wives, ex-wives, partners, supporters and dancers — while the duo collaborates on their historic ballet Orpheus.

The play also examines American art and institutions as the Cold War began, and the State Department’s subtle role in that era’s cultural scene.

While Balanchine spent many years in this area, I’m not sure about Stravinsky, Koussevitsky, or “Nikolai and the others.”

But I remember that Deathtrapthe longest-running comedy-thriller on Broadway — was set in Westport.

Here’s wishing that same luck — удача — to Nikolai and the Others.

8 responses to “George Balanchine “And The Others”: The Westport Years

  1. Excellent reporting, as usual. I hope the play is successful.
    You might do a favor for your source, Barry Katz, and mention that he’s selling Balanchine’s “10 Ridge Road” property with either 7 acres or just 3-1/2 acres.

  2. I remember in 1966 taking the train into the city with my oldest sister, an aspiring ballet dancer who studied with Joanne DeBergh, to the New York City Ballet where we watched among other pieces Swan Lake, and Suzanne Farrell was one of the dancers. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and the orchestration was equally breathtaking. I remember George Ballanchine coming out and taking a bow at the end.

  3. Love this connection, Dan! Can understand why Balanchine was so taken with Suzanne Farrell. There was none like her and it was hard to take your eyes off her. I also hope the play does well as it sounds like such an interesting idea.

  4. Jill Ross Beres

    When she was old , after George died. Tanny(ie?) was back in Weston, I know this to be true, because she was a patient of my late husband.

  5. Several members of his company became instructors in Mount Kisco, NY during the 1970-80’s. I always wondered why they weren’t more popular in Fairfield County where there were really no ballet studios.

  6. Sally Campbell Palmer

    Post-war Westport & Weston through the 50’s and into the 60’s, when the population was 1/3 the size now, were magical places chock-a-block with creative people from ALL the arts. With no paparozzi or mad celebrity chasers, their kids often went to local schools (I baby sat for some, played with others), they were comfortable out and about everywhere. Even as a teenager I knew it was a magical place to grow up.

  7. We at the other end of Ridge Road in Weston for 37 years. In the later years David often stopped and chatted with Tanaquil when she was in the garden or just sunning in front of the cottage. It was a haven for deer and other wildlife and birdlife. It hurt our hearts to see that idyllic home come down to be replaced by a building so ostentatious it looked totally out of place and was an affront to that beautiful piece of land. All of that acreage, including ours, Paul Cadmus’s, and Balanchine’s, was once owned by Miss Alice DeLamar, who occupied the big estate at the corner of Norfield Road and Newtown Turnpike, and whose story is beautifully recounted in the article below, beginning on Page 30. Take the time.

    The gigantic show house and all 7 acres were purchased from the developer by someone whose name would be very well known to you all.
    Dan — contact us if you’re curious. David was interviewed for this story.

  8. But I do have to say; sure must have been a very tight-knit community.