Balanchine Expert Gives Lecture to Dance Students

On April 8th, Megan Race, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, came to speak to Swarthmore students and faculty in a lecture on George Balanchine’s 1962 tour of the Soviet Union. Combining her academic research in Slavic Languages and Literatures with a long-established love for dance, Race has been working on a project that explores the Soviet media reception and depiction of the New York City Ballet. And throughout her lecture, she focused particularly on how Balanchine’s “modernist” ballets were received in the Soviet Union, a place where the government had laid out socialist realism expectations for the arts since the 1930s.

Professor Olivia Sabee of the Swarthmore Dance Program first met Megan Race when both were completing their undergraduate degrees at the University of Chicago.

“I met Megan about fifteen years ago when we danced in a production of Le Corsaire together. Though we didn’t know it at the time, those experiences staging (we both also set portions of this ballet and Cinderella on other dancers) would be formative in realizing how work in the studio might intersect with academic research,” Sabee reminisced.

A few years ago, Race’s and Sabee’s paths crossed again when they met at the American Comparative Literature Association conference. At the time, Race was working on her current project researching George Balanchine and Russian emigré culture, and since then, the two scholars have kept in touch, leading to Sabee’s invitation for Race to present at Swarthmore this spring.

Drawing on her past and concurrent research on Vladimir Nabokov and cultural politics of the Cold War, Race placed Balanchine’s 1962 tour of New York City Ballet in the Soviet Union within the context of the Kruschev Thaw. By analyzing Balanchine’s choreography as a whole, as well as providing the history of the balletEpisodes – whose original version, which also included choreography by Martha Graham, is no longer performed – Race drew attention to the inextricable relationship between dance and the wider cultural and historical connotations.

Sabee further elaborated on how Race’s lecture and research, in addition to having Soviet era implications, can be viewed within the lens of contemporary Russia-U.S. relations:

“Megan’s research is distinguished in part by her ability to draw on her Russian skills to show us a different picture of Balanchine and his reception…[And] through her work on Vladimir Nabokov…[she] shows how Balanchine was part of a larger Russian emigré culture. By examining Balanchine’s work with a wider lens, her work has the potential to connect the history of theatrical dance with a broader picture of what is going on in America and in Soviet-American relations at this time.”

Lectures like Race’s and opportunities to engage in deep academic discussion of the arts distinguish the Swarthmore Music and Dance Programs. From performance opportunities, to exposure to rigorous academic research, classroom and lecture hall, to the studio, students have the possibility to deepen their love for the arts.

Marion Kudla ’19