TIME Art & Artists

‘Movement Itself’: Gorgeous Color Photos of Stravinsky-Inspired Ballets

"The important thing in ballet," George Balanchine said, "is movement itself," a thought that photographer Gjon Mili vividly expresses in these photographs.

The Russian-born composer, conductor and pianist Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971) remains, five decades after his death, a towering figure in 20th century music. If he had written the music for only one of the three ballets for which he is best known — The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913) — he would still be celebrated today. That he wrote all three of those masterpieces, in the space of just a few years, ensures his musical immortality.

Here, on the great musician’s birthday (b. June 17, 1882, in Lomonosov, Russia), LIFE.com pays tribute to Stravinsky through photos made in 1972 by Gjon Mili. The pictures capture dancers from George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet as they bring to life a series of dance works — 21 of them, based on Stravinsky’s music — created by Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.

This tribute to Stravinsky, who died a year ago [wrote LIFE magazine in June 1972], was also a triumph for Balanchine, whose mastery of the dance is undiminished at 68. He personally created eight of the new ballets and collaborated with Jerome Robbins on another. “The important thing in ballet,” Balanchine says, “is movement itself,” a thought that photographer Gjon Mili vividly expresses in his photographs.

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.

Igor Stravinsky, rehearsing for a recording, smokes a cigarette while looking at his watch, New York City, 1947.
W. Eugene Smith—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com


Dear TIME Reader,

As a regular visitor to TIME.com, we are sure you enjoy all the great journalism created by our editors and reporters. Great journalism has great value, and it costs money to make it. One of the main ways we cover our costs is through advertising.

The use of software that blocks ads limits our ability to provide you with the journalism you enjoy. Consider turning your Ad Blocker off so that we can continue to provide the world class journalism you have become accustomed to.

The TIME Team