His work formed a bridge between classical and modern ballet.
He was born Georgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze in Saint Petersburg, the son of composer Meliton Balanchivadze. He began studying the piano at age five, and began studying ballet at age nine at the Imperial Theater School. He graduated in 1921.
While continuing to dance, he studied composition at the Petrograd Conservatory of Music. He began to choreograph, first for himself, and then for others.
In 1924, he was in a small troupe of ballet dancers that left the Soviet Union for a tour in Western Europe. In London, he was seen by Serge Diaghilev and was asked to join the Ballets Russes, initially as a dancer, but later as principal choreographer. A knee injury ended his dancing career.
Lincoln Kirstein (1907 – 1996), an arts patron, persuaded Balanchine to come to the United States to form an American ballet company in 1933. Balanchine insisted that first there be a school, and founded the School of American Ballet. A year later, the American Ballet, opened and became the resident ballet company at the Metropolitan Opera. Balanchine soon left.
In 1946 he founded the Ballet Society, which as the New York City Ballet became resident at City Center.
His 1954 staging of The Nutcracker is largely responsible for making the ballet a Christmas tradition in the United States.
He also worked as a choreographer for musical theater, movies, and television.
In 1983, Balanchine died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.