Join us for this journey in celebration of an iconic American institution that has brought dance to America and American dance to the world.

Click on our timeline below to see highlights from each year of ABT’s history, candid behind-the-scenes photos from our ABT alumni, and we also include anniversary video tributes from our dancers, both past and present. Plus, you can share your own anecdotes and memories of ABT in our guestbook within this site.

We hope you’ll visit often throughout 2015 to learn more about this remarkable Company that is 75 years strong!

Photo by Fabrizio Ferri.

Join us for this journey in celebration of an iconic American institution that has brought dance to America and American dance to the world.

Click on our timeline below to see highlights from each year of ABT’s history, candid behind-the-scenes photos from our ABT alumni, and we also include anniversary video tributes from our dancers, both past and present. Plus, you can share your own anecdotes and memories of ABT in our guestbook within this site.

We hope you’ll visit often throughout 2015 to learn more about this remarkable Company that is 75 years strong!


Photo by Fabrizio Ferri.
Photo: Alicia Alonso in Giselle. Photo by Cecil Beaton.
On January 11, 1940 at the Center Theatre in New York City’s Rockefeller Center, a new ballet company came center stage to offer its first performance. Posters described the company as “America’s First Ballet Theatre Presents the Greatest Ballets of All Times Staged by the Greatest Collaboration in Ballet History.” The daunting intention was to compete in the major leagues, and it never backed down, beginning with a three-week debut engagement of 18 individual ballets by 11 choreographers. During the 1940s under the leadership of Founder Richard Pleasant and Co-Directors Lucia Chase and Oliver Smith, Ballet Theatre toured across America and abroad offering exuberant performances of commissions by such choreographers as Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine, and Antony Tudor.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Photo: Alicia Alonso and Igor Youskevitch in Theme and Variations. Photo by The Scotsman Publications; Mary Clarke Collection.

On January 11, 1940 at the Center Theatre in New York City’s Rockefeller Center, a new ballet company came center stage to offer its first performance. Posters described the company as “America’s First Ballet Theatre Presents the Greatest Ballets of All Times Staged by the Greatest Collaboration in Ballet History.” The daunting intention was to compete in the major leagues, and it never backed down, beginning with a three-week debut engagement of 18 individual ballets by 11 choreographers. During the 1940s under the leadership of Founder Richard Pleasant and Co-Directors Lucia Chase and Oliver Smith, Ballet Theatre toured across America and abroad offering exuberant performances of commissions by such choreographers as Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine, and Antony Tudor.

Photo: Alicia Alonso in Giselle. Photo by Cecil Beaton.
Photo: Violette Verdy in Miss Julie. Photo by Maurice Seymour.
During its second decade, Ballet Theatre asserted its place as a true national company by becoming the first cultural organization to perform in all 48 states of the Union. Looking abroad, however, President Eisenhower requests Ballet Theatre convey an “understanding of America’s cultural environment and inspiration” during its upcoming tour, and “American” is officially included in ABT’s name in recognition of its position as a cultural ambassador. ABT’s repertory continued to grow during the 1950s, including such works as Agnes de Mille’s restaging of Rodeo, which proved to be of enduring value, Birgit Cullberg’s retelling of Strindberg’s famed play, Miss Julie, featuring Violette Verdy and Erik Bruhn in the ABT Premiere, and Kenneth MacMillan’s Winter’s Eve, an ABT commission by Lucia Chase and Oliver Smith who had become familiar in London with the work of the tyro choreographer.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Photo: Lupe Serrano in The Combat. Photo courtesy of ABT Archives.

During its second decade, Ballet Theatre asserted its place as a true national company by becoming the first cultural organization to perform in all 48 states of the Union. Looking abroad, however, President Eisenhower requests Ballet Theatre convey an “understanding of America’s cultural environment and inspiration” during its upcoming tour, and “American” is officially included in ABT’s name in recognition of its position as a cultural ambassador. ABT’s repertory continued to grow during the 1950s, including such works as Agnes de Mille’s restaging of Rodeo, which proved to be of enduring value, Birgit Cullberg’s retelling of Strindberg’s famed play, Miss Julie, featuring Violette Verdy and Erik Bruhn in the ABT Premiere, and Kenneth MacMillan’s Winter’s Eve, an ABT commission by Lucia Chase and Oliver Smith who had become familiar in London with the work of the tyro choreographer.

Photo: Violette Verdy in Miss Julie. Photo by Maurice Seymour.
Photo: Lupe Serrano and Royes Fernandez in Swan Lake. Photo by Jack Mitchell.
ABT reached a milestone in its third decade by mounting a full-length production of Swan Lake, showcasing the technical mastery of the Company’s ballerinas who rose to the challenge of the lead dual role of Odette/Odile. While ABT marked its 25th Anniversary with a first season at the newly constructed Lincoln Center, performing the world premiere of Jerome Robbins’ Les Noces, fresh new choreographic talent also emerged within the Company from young American choreographers: Eliot Feld, Glen Tetley, Michael Smuin and Dennis Nahat. In 1965, ABT’s artistic contributions to the country were recognized when it became the very first organization to receive a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Photo: Carla Fracci and Erik Bruhn in La Sylphide. Photo by Martha Swope.

ABT reached a milestone in its third decade by mounting a full-length production of Swan Lake, showcasing the technical mastery of the Company’s ballerinas who rose to the challenge of the lead dual role of Odette/Odile. While ABT marked its 25th Anniversary with a first season at the newly constructed Lincoln Center, performing the world premiere of Jerome Robbins’ Les Noces, fresh new choreographic talent also emerged within the Company from young American choreographers: Eliot Feld, Glen Tetley, Michael Smuin and Dennis Nahat. In 1965, ABT’s artistic contributions to the country were recognized when it became the very first organization to receive a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Photo: Lupe Serrano and Royes Fernandez in Swan Lake. Photo by Jack Mitchell.
Photo: Mikhail Baryshnikov in Push Comes to Shove. Photo by Marty Sohl.
Not since the early days of the Company had the dancers of ABT been afforded the opportunity of working under the direction of dancer-choreographers whose experiences in the Mariinsky Theater were still fresh in their minds. After their defection to the West, Natalia Makarova, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev not only staged versions of Russian classics but also conveyed a glamorous aura of the Russian style of classical dance. In contrast, new works entered the ABT repertory from such contemporary American choreographers as Twyla Tharp and Alvin Ailey, further adding to the diverse repertoire of the Company. An interesting highlight, Soloists of the Cuban Ballet and ABT danced together in 1976 for the first time since their respective governments had broken off relations, proving that art can transcend international affairs.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Photo: Gelsey Kirkland and Rudolf Nureyev in Raymonda. Photo by Martha Swope.

Not since the early days of the Company had the dancers of ABT been afforded the opportunity of working under the direction of dancer-choreographers whose experiences in the Mariinsky Theater were still fresh in their minds. After their defection to the West, Natalia Makarova, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev not only staged versions of Russian classics but also conveyed a glamorous aura of the Russian style of classical dance. In contrast, new works entered the ABT repertory from such contemporary American choreographers as Twyla Tharp and Alvin Ailey, further adding to the diverse repertoire of the Company. An interesting highlight, Soloists of the Cuban Ballet and ABT danced together in 1976 for the first time since their respective governments had broken off relations, proving that art can transcend international affairs.

Photo: Mikhail Baryshnikov in Push Comes to Shove. Photo by Marty Sohl.
Photo: Cynthia Harvey in La Bayadère. Photo by Gregory Heisler.
Mikhail Baryshnikov assumed the position of Artistic Director, succeeding the co-directors Lucia Chase and Oliver Smith after a remarkable 35 years of leadership. In 1980, Natalia Makarova staged the first full-length production of Petipa’s classic, La Bayadère, for ABT audiences, who had previously known the work primarily for its excerpted Act II “The Kingdom of the Shades.” Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet also entered the ABT repertory, offering generations of ABT dancers and audiences for years to come one of the most theatrically rewarding experiences in ballet-theatre history. Ambitious new commissions continued to flourish during the 1980s from such choreographers as Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor and ABT dancer Clark Tippet.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Photo: Elaine Kudo and Mikhail Baryshnikov in Sinatra Suite. Photo by Martha Swope.

Mikhail Baryshnikov assumed the position of Artistic Director, succeeding the co-directors Lucia Chase and Oliver Smith after a remarkable 35 years of leadership. In 1980, Natalia Makarova staged the first full-length production of Petipa’s classic, La Bayadère, for ABT audiences, who had previously known the work primarily for its excerpted Act II “The Kingdom of the Shades.” Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet also entered the ABT repertory, offering generations of ABT dancers and audiences for years to come one of the most theatrically rewarding experiences in ballet-theatre history. Ambitious new commissions continued to flourish during the 1980s from such choreographers as Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor and ABT dancer Clark Tippet.

Photo: Cynthia Harvey in La Bayadère. Photo by Gregory Heisler.
Photo: Sandra Brown and Desmond Richardson in Othello. Photo by Roy Round.
ABT celebrated its 50th Anniversary in grand style in January 1990 at the Metropolitan Opera House with performances by such luminaries as Carla Fracci, Martine van Hamel, Marianna Tcherkassky, Susan Jaffe, Julio Bocca, Alessandra Ferri, Amanda McKerrow and the legendary Alicia Alonso. Shortly thereafter in 1992, former ABT Principal Dancer Kevin McKenzie became Artistic Director and brought the freshness of an American artist who knew the Company inside and out. Under his guidance, the Company gained its first fully commissioned evening-length ballet, Othello: A Dance in Three Acts with choreography by Lar Lubovitch and music by Academy Award-winner Elliot Goldenthal. The ever-inventive Twyla Tharp also continued to blur the lines between classical and contemporary dance by offering a wealth of works for ABT dancers and dance enthusiasts during the 1990s.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Photo: Jose Manuel Carreno in Le Corsaire. Photo by Nancy Ellison.

ABT celebrated its 50th Anniversary in grand style in January 1990 at the Metropolitan Opera House with performances by such luminaries as Carla Fracci, Martine van Hamel, Marianna Tcherkassky, Susan Jaffe, Julio Bocca, Alessandra Ferri, Amanda McKerrow and the legendary Alicia Alonso. Shortly thereafter in 1992, former ABT Principal Dancer Kevin McKenzie became Artistic Director and brought the freshness of an American artist who knew the Company inside and out. Under his guidance, the Company gained its first fully commissioned evening-length ballet, Othello: A Dance in Three Acts with choreography by Lar Lubovitch and music by Academy Award-winner Elliot Goldenthal. The ever-inventive Twyla Tharp also continued to blur the lines between classical and contemporary dance by offering a wealth of works for ABT dancers and dance enthusiasts during the 1990s.

Photo: Sandra Brown and Desmond Richardson in Othello. Photo by Roy Round.
Photo: Veronika Part, Paloma Herrera, and Marcelo Gomes in On the Dnieper. Photo by Fabrizio Ferri.
The new millennia displays ABT’s steadfast commitment to showcasing the most diverse classical dance and artistry to the U.S. and abroad, thereby formally recognized as America’s National Ballet Company® by an act of Congress in 2006. Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie not only prioritized the acquisition and curation of such classic gems by Frederick Ashton including Cinderella, The Dream, A Month in the Country and Sylvia, but he also looked to the future of the classical dance canon with the appointment of ABT Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky, who has now helped to usher classical ballet into the 21st century with his ABT commissions of Firebird, On the Dnieper, Seven Sonatas, Shostakovich Trilogy and the 75th Anniversary commission of The Sleeping Beauty.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Photo: Misty Copeland in Firebird. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

The new millennia displays ABT’s steadfast commitment to showcasing the most diverse classical dance and artistry to the U.S. and abroad, thereby formally recognized as America’s National Ballet Company® by an act of Congress in 2006. Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie not only prioritized the acquisition and curation of such classic gems by Frederick Ashton including Cinderella, The Dream, A Month in the Country and Sylvia, but he also looked to the future of the classical dance canon with the appointment of ABT Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky, who has now helped to usher classical ballet into the 21st century with his ABT commissions of Firebird, On the Dnieper, Seven Sonatas, Shostakovich Trilogy and the 75th Anniversary commission of The Sleeping Beauty.

Photo: Veronika Part, Paloma Herrera, and Marcelo Gomes in On the Dnieper. Photo by Fabrizio Ferri.