I know more about dance & it’s history than most civilians because my boyfriend in college was/ is a dancer- the fabled Walter Kennedy. Because of him, I have an interest in dance & the Husband & I enjoy dance concerts. If I could have any talent, it would have been to be able to dance like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly , Bob Fosse, or Baryshnikov. I am also a student of life in NYC in the 1940s- 1970s, & today’s birthday gay is an absorbing figure of that epoch.
He was a writer, impresario, art connoisseur & major 20th century cultural figure in NYC. Lincoln Kirstein's assorted attractions, ambition & attention to high culture, along with a small fortune, gave him a circle of accomplished friends: George Platt Lynes Jared French, Katherine Anne Porter, Barbara Harrison, Gertrude Stein, Cecil Beaton, Jean Cocteau, Walker Evans, & Sergei Eisenstein among many others.
Like my infamous sex diaries, Kirstein kept records, beginning in summer camp in 1919 until the late 1930's, making note of enjoying sex with men: Harvard undergraduates, sailors, street boys, in the showers at the 63rd St YMCA. He enjoyed long affairs with dancer Pete Martinez, artist Dan Maloney, & conservator Jensen Yow. Casual sex frequently grew into longterm friendships.
Portrait of Lincoln Kirstein by Pavel Tchelitchew, Portrait (1937)
In 1941, he married Fidelma Cadmus, the sister of one of my favorite artists- Paul Cadmus. Kiestein & his wife had an amicable but stressful relationship until her death in 1991. Some of his boyfriends lived with them in their East 19th townhouse; His wife was enormously fond of most of them. The NYC art world considered his gayness an "open secret," although he did not publicly acknowledge his homosexuality until 1982.
Kirstein was the primary patron of his wife’s brother, buying many of his paintings & subsidizing his living expenses. Cadmus had difficulty selling his work through galleries because of the erotically charged depictions of working class men, which provoked great controversy.
Kirstein's tastes were clear & confident. He was an advocate for American arts. A man of culture, commitment & courage, he is best known for making possible the career of the choreographer George Balanchine in the United States. He dedicated himself to classical ballet in the USA for 60+ years. He was also a prolific writer on the subjects of dance & art, a poet, a passionate art collector, an organiser of cultural events, & an adviser to government.
Kirstein by Walker Evans (1930)
In Venice in 1929, while researching El Greco, he happened upon on Diaghilev's funeral. The event had a profound effect on young Kirstein. He studied the history of dance & took ballet classes. He came upon the notion of bringing a distinguished choreographer to found a ballet tradition in the USA. He was able through her to secure an introduction to George Balanchine, the choreographer whose work he most admired.
Kirstein founded & financed the School of American Ballet, as the center for Balanchine's work. Kirstein would remain the board chairman until 1989. He was also the backbone behind Balanchine's companies: the American Ballet Company, The Ballet Society, & the NYC Ballet, where he served as general director until 1989. Kirstein founded a touring group- Ballet Caravan, in order to stage ballets by American choreographers on American themes, including Eugene Loring's, Billy the Kid, one of several works with librettos by Kirstein.
Kirstein was instrumental in the development of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in Manhattan, where the NYC Ballet was in residence. Not limiting himself to dance, he was a founder of the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre at Stratford, Connecticut.
During WW2, Kirstein served with the US Army in England, France & Germany. In 1945, he discovered & supervised the recovery of the huge collection of art looted by Nazis.
In his later years, Kirstein struggled from depression, & paranoia. He destroyed the studio of his friend Dan Maloney, & sometimes was in a straitjacket for weeks at a psychiatric hospital. His illness did not affect his professional creativity until the end of his life.
Kirstein involved himself in the civil rights marches in Alabama in 1965. He was also a firm supporter of Arthur Mitchell's Dance Theatre of Harlem from its earliest stages.
Lincoln Kirstein by Jamie Wyeth (1965)
Kirstein requested that there be no religious service when he died, & that no religious words be spoken as his ashes were scattered across the pond near his country house. There were a only dozen mourners, & the wind blew some of the ashes back in their faces. He had lived that kind of a life.