(kûr'stīn, kĭr'–), 1907–96, American dance and theater executive and writer, b. Rochester, N.Y. One of the most significant figures in 20th cent. American ballet, Kirstein was cofounder of the American Ballet and the School of the American Ballet in 1934 and of Ballet Caravan in 1936. He is best known for helping to establish the New York City Ballet, and was its general director from 1948 to 1989. Together with choreographer George Balanchine, whom he brought to the United States in 1933, Kirstein encouraged the development of a truly American style of dance. He was the author of many books on dance, including Dance (1935), a compendious history; Ballet Alphabet (1939); The Classic Ballet, Basic Technique and Terminology (with Muriel Stuart, 1952); Movement and Metaphor (1970); a history of the New York City Ballet (1973); Nijinsky Dancing (1975); and Ballet: Bias and Belief (1983).
A man of enormous refinement, varied interests, and definite tastes, Kirstein was also the author of numerous essays, many collected in By With To & From (1991); a novel (1932); two books of poetry (1965, 1987); dance and art criticism; and several works on modern figurative artists, including the definitive biography of Elie Nadelman (1973) and two studies of Pavel Tchelitchew (1947, 1994). In the U.S. army during and after World War II, Kirstein was instrumental in recovering for their owners works of art plundered by Nazi officials during the war. As a producer he worked with the American Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford, Conn., and for many years presented the 12th-century musical drama The Play of Daniel annually at Christmas in New York. Kirstein also promoted cultural exchange programs between Japan and the United States.