Rare Rehearsal Photos From Classic Broadway Shows

Published October 27, 2016
Updated January 18, 2018

The Four Temperaments
New York City Ballet's George Balanchine, co-founder of the company and its artistic director of 35 years, joins principal dancer Arthur Mitchell in rehearsing for The Four Temperaments in 1963. Martha Swope/NYPL

Slaughter Rehearsal
Another New York City Ballet principal dancer, Suzanne Farrell, rehearses Slaughter on Tenth Avenue with Arthur Mitchell while George Balanchine looks on. Farrell was a muse of Balanchine's, and he created many roles specifically for her. Martha Swope/NYPL

Balanchine Bugaku
Victoria Simon and Deni Lamont, soloists with the New York City Ballet, rehearse for Bugaku, an original ballet choreographed by Balanchine featuring music by Japanese composer Toshiro Mayuzumi, in 1963. Martha Swope/NYPL

Gillian Lynn Cats
Choreographer Gillian Lynn instructs dancers during rehearsals for the original production of Cats.Martha Swope/NYPL

Bugaku Balanchine
The NYCB rehearses Bugaku under the instruction of George Balanchine in 1963.Martha Swope/NYPL

Vienna Waltzes Rehearsal
George Balanchine watches a dress rehearsal for the premiere of his ballet Vienna Waltzes in 1977.Martha Swope/NYPL

Terrance Man Cats
Broadway actor Terrence Mann rehearses for a performance of Cats in 1982.Martha Swope/NYPL

Baryshnikov Stars Stripes
One of the most legendary dancers of our time, Mikhail Baryshnikov, practices his leaps during rehearsal for Balanchine's Stars and Stripes. Baryshnikov spent just 18 months as a principal dancer at NYCB before becoming artistic director of the American Ballet Theater. Martha Swope/NYPL

Swan Lake Rehearsal Embrace
An intimate moment between Suzanne Farrell and Jacques d'Amboise during rehearsal for Swan Lake in 1966.Martha Swope/NYPL

West Side Jerome Robbins
Choreographer Jerome Robbins directs members of the chorus during a rehearsal for the premiere of West Side Story in 1957.Martha Swope/NYPL

Afternoon Of A Faun Faces
NYCB principal dancer Patricia McBride practices hand gestures and facial expressions for a revival of Vaslav Nijinsky's Afternoon of a Faun in 1964, choreographed by Jerome Robbins. Martha Swope/NYPL

Stravinsky Blanachine Watching Agon
Igor Stravinsky and George Balanchine watching Arthur Mitchell and fellow company member Diana Adams rehearse Agon. Mitchell would go on to found the Dance Theatre of Harlem.Martha Swope/NYPL

Summerspace Dress Rehearsal
Choreographer Merce Cunningham instructs his dancers during a rehearsal for Summerspace.Martha Swope/NYPL

Balanchine Rehearses Children
Balanchine guiding young students from the School of American Ballet during a rehearsal for Don Quixote.Martha Swope/NYPL

Chorus Line Rehearsal
Donna McKechnie, who originated the role of Cassie in A Chorus Line, rehearses for a 1983 performance of the show with choreographer Michael Bennett. Martha Swope/NYPL

Balanchine Swan Lake
Balanchine gives some final pointers to then-principal dancer Edward Villella during a New York City Ballet production of Swan Lake in 1964. Martha Swope/NYPL

Balanchine Don Quixote
Balanchine advises company member Richard Rapp on how to create the best dramatic pose. Martha Swope/NYPL

Baryshnikov and Patricia McBride rehearsing Harlequinade in 1979. Martha Swope/NYPL

Diversion Of Angels Rehearsal
Martha Graham Dance Company's production of Diversion of Angels in 1978.Martha Swope/NYPL

Cats Rehearsal
Gillian Lynn shows her dancers how to look more feline during a rehearsal for Cats in 1982. Martha Swope/NYPL

Don Quixote Rehearsal
The NYCB rehearses Don Quixote. Martha Swope/NYPL

Jerome Robbins
Jerome Robbins directs Edward Villella and Patricia McBride during a rehearsal for his revival of Afternoon of a Faun in 1964.Martha Swope/NYPL

Chita Rivera West Side Story
Chita Rivera rehearses West Side Story with the production's chorus in 1957. Martha Swope/NYPL

Midsummer Rehearsal Balanchine
Edward Villella in mid-air during rehearsal for A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1961 as Balanchine watches in the foreground. Martha Swope/NYPL

Dreagirls Musicians
Musicians rehearsing for the 1981 production of Dreamgirls leap into the air. Martha Swope/NYPL

Nycb Rehearsal
A rehearsal space at the NYCB, 1964.Martha Swope/NYPL

The Wiz
Dancers in the midst of a routine during a rehearsal for the premiere of The Wiz in 1974.Martha Swope/NYPL

Who Cares Nycb
Patricia McBride and Jacques d'Amboise caught in an embrace during a rehearsal for Balanchine's ballet Who Cares? in 1970.Martha Swope/NYPL

Martha Swope wanted to be a dancer. So in 1957, she packed her bags and left her Texas hometown for New York City, where she would attend New York's famous School of American Ballet.

One of Swope's classmates, Jerome Robbins, asked her to photograph a new show he was working on called West Side Story. Swope gladly took on the project, which became an instant classic and saw her photos appear in LIFE magazine.

Swope's work then gained the attention of Lincoln Kirstein, co-founder of the New York City Ballet. He asked her to photograph rehearsals for a new ballet called Agon, choreographed by the legendary George Balanchine with original music by noted composer Igor Stravinksy -- and Swope's career was off and running.

For almost four more decades thereafter, from 1957 to 1994, Swope photographed New York City Ballet rehearsals featuring some of the most iconic dancers of the day -- including Suzanne Farrell and Mikhail Baryshnikov -- under the direction of Balanchine. Furthermore, Swope captured behind-the-scenes images of the original productions of classic Broadway shows like Cats, Annie, and A Chorus Line.

Swope's dance background played a central part in the inimitable way she photographed these performances and rehearsals. She understood the timing and the movement of her subjects, and used that knowledge to capture the precise moments in a routine that made for the best still images.

That level of expertise put her in high demand: She worked for every major dance company from the American Ballet Theater to the Dance Theatre of Harlem -- all as a self-taught photographer.

Above, you'll find 28 of Martha Swope's most beautiful photos of New York City dancers.

Next, check out 23 stunning Ziegfeld Follies photos of the Jazz Age's sexiest Broadway revue. Then, watch Mickael Jou turn dance and photography into one breathtaking art form. Finally, check out the glamorous and gruesome history of the masquerade ball.

Elisabeth Sherman
Elisabeth Sherman is a writer living in Jersey City, New Jersey.