Music History and Theory Forum: James Steichen

Event Date: 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016 - 3:30pm to 4:45pm

Event Location: 

  • Music Room 1145 (UCSB)

Event Price: 

Admission is free.

Event Contact: 

Adriane Hill
Marketing and Communications Manager
UC Santa Barbara Department of Music
(805) 893-3230

Speaker: James Steichen, Lecturer, Stanford University

Topic: “Broadway does it more naturally” –On Your Toes and the Making of an American Ballet

Rodgers and Hart’s 1936 On Your Toes has long been seen as a pivotal moment in the history of “integrated” musical comedy (in particular regarding the role of dance as a vehicle of plot development), and George Balanchine’s work on the show has been regarded as the first time that dance on Broadway merited the distinction of “choreography.” Drawing on archival material made available in recent years, this talk lays out a more expansive meaning for the dances of On Your Toes, arguing that they served as a rich site of experimentation for not just Broadway form but the development of Balanchine’s uniquely American choreography. The virtuosic, comedic, and tragic dances of On Your Toes seamlessly blended Tin Pan Alley song with Gershwin’s symphonic idioms and playfully juxtaposed tap dancing and Russian ballet, acts of creative exchange underpinned by unacknowledged and problematic racial and gender dynamics. This blending provided an inadvertent blueprint for the elusive idea of “American ballet” sought by Balanchine and his patron and champion Lincoln Kirstein in Depression-Era America. For us today, the dances of On Your Toes allow us to see more clearly the popular roots of Balanchine’s neoclassical style.

Speaker Bio:

James Steichen is the Program in Writing and Rhetoric Lecturer for ITALIC (Immersion in the Arts: Living in Culture) at Stanford University. He holds a Ph.D. in musicology from Princeton University, and his research concerns the history of the

performing arts in twentieth-century America. Current projects include a book on the early years of the ballet enterprise of choreographer George Balanchine and impresario Lincoln Kirstein (under contract with Oxford University Press), and ongoing research into the Metropolitan Opera’s “Live in HD” cinema broadcast initiative. His work has been supported by the Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship and the Howard D. Rothschild Fellowship in Dance from Harvard University’s Houghton Library.


© 1936 Al Hirschfeld. Courtesy Of The Margo Feiden Galleries, New York.
James Steichen (courtesy photo)