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George Balanchine


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I guess I just like a story ballet. Having said that I like two dancers just performing a piece of classical ballet to tuneful music. When Scottish Ballet had Robert North he had plenty pure Ballet pieces such as Sarcasms by Hans Van Manen. It to me was a man and women competing?

 

However I saw New York City ballet once and I could not get my head round it despite fact they are one of the world's great companies. I look at Balanchine and he is the greatest choreographer of the 20th century and legendary. Can you please tell me why I feel this. I think it is because  Tchaikovsky was to me please correct me more tuneful where as Stravinsky Balanchine's composer was quieter style.

 

I can watch two dancers dance to someone playing piano and no other instruments and enjoy that.

 

George Balanchine said "if you have a man holding a woman's hand you have a love story almost. How much story do you want".

 

Ultimately I guess Balanchine was pure ballet but I can enjoy pure ballet but not really got my head round him yet. Maybe I have to see more of his work on DVD etc and watch more. Only seen NYC Ballet once!

 

Any thoughts please?

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you have to see more Balanchine. Tchaikovsky was his composer just as much as Stravinsky. You may find you like his tutu ballets better than his black and white ballets (they are very different). It's unfortunate there isn't more Balanchine available on DVD. Have you seen Jewels (which is)?

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I've never understood Balanchine's appeal. Well, no, I guess I understand it, but try as I might I can't participate in it. Obviously he's a great choreographer and his work is impressive, but I've never been touched by it the way I have by Ashton. I guess it isn't helped by the fact that most of what I saw at San Francisco Ballet seemed to be set to Stravinsky (to the point where they only performed Rubies from Jewels), and with a few exceptions Stravinsky's music makes my teeth ache. I remember having to sit through Duo Concertant several times and thinking that root canal surgery was less painful. Two people in practice costumes with no scenery to speak of, doing acrobatics to a piano and violin sounding like fingernails on a blackboard. *shudders at the memory*

 

I agree that he makes the music sing, but in many ways it reminds me of what would result if you asked the world's biggest supercomputer to take a piece of music and make it visual, within the constraints of the basic ballet vocabulary. It's a visual representation of the music but somehow the soul isn't there.

 

Mind you, having said all that, I'd love to see Union Jack. That looks like a lot of fun.

Edited by Melody
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Also, Euan, check out Balanchine's 'Serenade', which is a lovely ballet with a bit of a back story (based on his company class, including one of the dancers running in late and falling over, and being upset by this but then redeemed). It is to Tchaikovsky's lovely and moving Serenade for Strings.

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'Serenade' in particular seems to have come straight from Balanchine's heart (choreographed as it was in 1928 (?) when he was still in his twenties,  I used to think that the difference between Balanchine and Ashton   - who were and still are my two great ballet passions - was that the former's genius glittered and the latter's genius glowed, meaning that A's work was imbued with warmth whereas B's work dazzled by its technical brilliance, but now I see that each choreographer's work has sufficient  warmth and brilliance to satisfy all:  True, B. never produced any comedy to match A's 'Fille', and true A. never produced anything to match the groundbreaking invention of of B's 'Apollo', but - between them - they gave us everything. 

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Also, Euan, check out Balanchine's 'Serenade', which is a lovely ballet with a bit of a back story (based on his company class, including one of the dancers running in late and falling over, and being upset by this but then redeemed). It is to Tchaikovsky's lovely and moving Serenade for Strings.

 

I was trying to remember that one - thanks Sim

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I like Balanchine very much but I think to really appreciate his mastery of choreography you need to watch the works from above so sit higher up in the theatre. This way you can see all the detail of the choreography. To me one of his trademarks is the mirroring of the dancers on each side of the stage. I like the way he uses arms to make patterns and arches eg in Emeralds and Serenade. Then you have the pure show off ballets like Tchaikovsky pdd and Ballo de La Regina. But for story you have to see his Nutcracker I absolutely loved Balanchine's Nutcracker. I am not a fan of Stravinsky but Balanchine makes it work...Rubies. I hope you will be able to see more.

Edited by Don Q Fan
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I think that there were two Balanchines. One was a choreographer who seemed to respond to music with as much immediacy as Ashton and the other was an excessively cerebral one who gives the impression of analysing every bar of music to within an inch of its life. Euan it sounds as if your first encounter with Mr B was with the intellectual choreographer who on occasion can seem a little too concerned with showing just how clever he is. The latter choreographer made a great number of ballets to Stravinsky scores while the choreographer of feeling made his ballets to music by Tchaikovsky, Ravel, Glazanov, Bach, Bizet and Faure.

 

You need to remember that Balanchine's musicality and Ashton's are very different and that the two choreographer's use the dancers' bodies in very different ways and that where Ashton follows the melody Balanchine follows the rhythm and observes the bar lines. If you don't bear these differences in mind you will end up looking for the wrong things. If you look for Ashton in Balanchine you will be disappointed just as you will if you look for Balanchine in Ashton. But its what a lot of people do

 

So the answer to the Balanchine problem is to start with those ballets which seem to be immediate responses to the music rather than an intellectual exercise. Have another go and start with a ballet like Serenade; it has a score by Tchaikovsky and is full of beauty and mystery. It was made in 1934 and is said to owe its origins to Balanchine's wish to demonstrate to the dancers the difference between classroom steps and steps in performance. Another Balanchine "starter" ballet is Symphony in C which matches in its choreography the exuberance of the young Bizet. Then there are Ballet Imperial and Theme and Variations both to scores by Tchaikovsky.

 

At some point you will have to bite the bullet and try a Balanchine ballet to a Stravinsky score. Both of Balanchine's Diaghilev ballets to Stravinsky scores are more accessible than his later works. The Prodigal Son follows the bible story while Apollo in the version danced by the Royal Ballet shows the god's birth, his development and his eventual ascent to Olympus. Finally Jewels which opens with Emeralds an evocation of the nineteenth century French school which is all elegant understated sophistication. This is followed by Rubies set to a score by Stravinsky. It tells you something about the impact that being in New York and working in the commercial theatre had on its choreographer. It ends with Diamonds an evocation of Imperial Russia and its ballet. Diamonds, it goes without saying, is to a Tchaikovsky score.

 

For me the five great choreographers of the twentieth century were, in alphabetical order, Ashton, Balanchine, Nijinska, Robbins and Tudor. It would be a shame if an initial unsatisfactory experience were to put anyone off any of them for life.

Edited by FLOSS
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I think I would add Fokine to that list. I know he wasn't born in the 20th century but he did most, if not all, of his important work during it. For me the two utter geniuses were Ashton and Balanchine. I was very pleased to hear Darcey use the word to describe Ashton 3 times during the interviews given in the Rhapsody/Two Pigeons programme. Coming from someone who will always be thought of as primarily a Macmillan dancer it was very gratifying.

 

Regarding Balanchine, I have never seen Serenade or Theme and Variations without being amazed by his genius. It may be an overused word these days but, for me, they both utterly deserve it.

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Euan, if you want to see a Balanchine ballet danced like the way Balanchine intended, you should watch students of the School of American Ballet in Serenade:

http://youtu.be/XbZjVGT1A3o

This is a full recording of a school performance a few years ago. As far as I know, it's the only recent recording of Serenade on youtube. Although its danced by students, the dancing is of an excellent quality and follows the Balanchine style perfectly - when I first saw it I couldnt believe they were only students. I searched for reviews of this evening and came across an American forum where everyone seemed to agree that this interpretation was by far the best theyd ever seen, most claiming it was even better than how the adults danced it at NYCB.

 

And if you want to see more of Balanchine's work, you should check out a youtube channel called 'Béla Schenker', he posts videos of full length Balanchine ballets as danced by NYCB from the 50's through the 80's. It's like a treasure chest full of vintage NYCB and a must watch for every balletomane if I have to be honest!

Edited by kameliendame
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Thank you for that, kameliendame. What's with the different costumes? Just SAB standard wear, or something else?

Those are the costumes for each ballet. For instance, Serenade is always performed with the pale blue leo and wispy long skirt, Western Symphony is performed in "wild west" outfits, etc. 

 

Here is a recording of Western Symphony from the 1950s; you can see that the SAB production is using identical costumes. 

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I think that there were two Balanchines. One was a choreographer who seemed to respond to music with as much immediacy as Ashton and the other was an excessively cerebral one who gives the impression of analysing every bar of music to within an inch of its life.

 

You need to remember that Balanchine's musicality and Ashton's are very different and that the two choreographer's use the dancers' bodies in very different ways and that where Ashton follows the melody Balanchine follows the rhythm and observes the bar lines. If you don't bear these differences in mind you will end up looking for the wrong things. If you look for Ashton in Balanchine you will be disappointed just as you will if you look for Balanchine in Ashton. But its what a lot of people do

 

 

 

I like some Balanchine but not others.  I've never really appreciated the difference between the musical approach, and will try to watch slightly differently next time.

 

However, the main reason I don't like a lot of Balanchine is that he is what I call a "leggy" choreographer.  Maybe he had a thing about women's thighs, I don't know, but when I think of him I think of masses of arabesques and huge extensions, performed by square shouldered dancers.  Some of it comes across as brilliant but cold and clinical.   I prefer the whole body approach of Ashton, with the emphasis on wonderful footwork, and beautiful arms.

 

Of course, I am no expert, and I am sure people will point me in the direction of plenty of Balanchine ballets with sparkling feet and glorious arms.  It is just that I have never seen them.  And yes, I have seen Jewels, and like it, although I think I must be one of the very few who didn't think Rubies was the best thing, and preferred the more gentle and flowing Emeralds. 

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I like some Balanchine but not others.  I've never really appreciated the difference between the musical approach, and will try to watch slightly differently next time.

 

However, the main reason I don't like a lot of Balanchine is that he is what I call a "leggy" choreographer.  Maybe he had a thing about women's thighs, I don't know, but when I think of him I think of masses of arabesques and huge extensions, performed by square shouldered dancers.  Some of it comes across as brilliant but cold and clinical.   I prefer the whole body approach of Ashton, with the emphasis on wonderful footwork, and beautiful arms.

 

Of course, I am no expert, and I am sure people will point me in the direction of plenty of Balanchine ballets with sparkling feet and glorious arms.  It is just that I have never seen them.  And yes, I have seen Jewels, and like it, although I think I must be one of the very few who didn't think Rubies was the best thing, and preferred the more gentle and flowing Emeralds. 

 

Emeralds is also my favourite section of Rubies! Though I like all three very much. And yes, Balanchine can be very 'leggy', but I find him so invigorating and interesting that he moves me in a very profound way.

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  • 1 month later...

Does the NYBC ever do tours in the UK? 

I love Jewels! I think Diamonds is my fave but the music of Emeralds is amazing!

 

A reminder that NYCB will be in Paris in June. A great opportunity to soak up some Balanchine (and Robbins and others). There are some absolutely fab dancers in NYCB at the moment (Tiler Peck, Sara Mearns, Chase Finlay...)

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The last NYCB tour at The Coliseum was not much of a success as I remember.  Yet the Paris tour later the same year was an absolute sell out in the Opera Bastille which is huge.  Think the French subsidised it better?  I think this why they are coming to Paris and not London this year, although they will preform at The Chatelet Theatre which is much older, smaller, uncomfortable etc than the Bastille, but I'm going to grin and bear it.

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Try The Four Temperaments to music by Paul Hindemith - musical and rhythmic.

 

There is also Balanchine's version of The midsummer night's dream; is this more in the "musical responses" category even though it has the Shakespeare play as basis?

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I would think, Euan, given your preferences you might enjoy Scotch Symphony or Balanchine's Coppelia or the delightful Square Dance or Concerto Barocco or Bouree Fantastique or Allegro Brillante or Stars and Stripes or his glorious Donizetti Variations or Tarantella (that's two people dancing with their life's rapture) or Divermento Brillante or Valse Fantaisie or La Source or Slaughter on Tenth Avenue or Who Cares? or Cortege Hongrois or The Steadfast Tin Soldier or Chaconne or Union Jack or Vienna Waltzes or the Walpurgisnacht Ballet or Ballade or - for those who don't like Sleeping Beauty - Balanchine's Garland Dance.  The latter has close to 100 dancers on the stage but it is - if nothing else - definitively Tchaikovsky.  You might even enjoy two of my personal favourites:  Liebesleider Watzer or the Brahms-Schoenburg Quartet.  (The latter is being done by the Paris Opera Ballet in a double bill with a new ballet by the NYCB resident choreographer, Justin Peck at the same time as NYCB is resident at the Chatalet from June 28 through mid July.  You could, for example, during two of those NYCB/Paris weeks go to different NYCB programmes on the Friday night and two on Saturday with the POB presentation at the Bastille on the Sunday thus allowing you to see 11 different ballets over three days.  I was in New York last month for work for four days and managed to see 16 ballets in that time - and the great thing was - it wasn't any special festival or anything - it was just the NYCB season [13] and a guest visit by PNB at City Centre [3].)

 

The above is just to suggest a few items out of Balanchine's 420 ballets, of course.  LIke Ashton, he was a genius who shaped ballet as we came to know it in the last Century.  What I wonder will it look like in the next.  I so wish I would be able to come back and take a peek.  Somehow I bet Balanchine's influence will still be pitching in there ... but, of course, I may be very wrong.  

Edited by Bruce Wall
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