“All Balanchine”program: enhanced beauty and creativity always spring from great partnerships…

David H. Koch building–Lincoln Center/Wednesday January 22nd, 2020.

This week friends, welcome back, and this time, to the ballet, it’s been a while!

And we’re in, for quite a treat!

Let’s (re)discover stupendous and stunning works of art choreographed by the great and mighty George Balanchine (1904-1983), a defining 20th century Ballet Master, like no other.

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And ladies and gentlemen, believe it not, but last Wednesday evening, the NYCB, not only celebrated some of Balanchine’s (also called Mr B.), short choreography masterpieces, but also, acknowledged Balanchine’s birthday!

Why not?

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So welcome, to a few of Balanchine’s great short works in the ballet world, in their wonderfully expressive beauty, and romanticism, in terms of music and choreography!

Let’s marvel at these iconic ballets which have stood the test of time, thanks to wonderful artistic partnerships, as they have progressively, shaped up.

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Let’s give a bit of context about Balanchine, because it will give us additional keys, to understand these upcoming stunning short pieces, he choreographed over the years:

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As one knows, Balanchine (1904-1983), was one of the 20th century greatest dance choreographers ever. He also was, as well, a tremendously accomplished musician, who during his incredibly influential life, had chosen to live and work, in various creative “hubs” (Russia, Europe, and the U.S.) to support himself, in various ways, as an artist.

And as such, he knew quite a bit, about the importance, even for well rounded performance arts professionals, as himself, of developing key creative partnerships, to flourish as a successful artist.

Russian born, Balanchine (called, until he met Diaghilev in 1925, Balanchivadze), had studied dance, and had received, as a child, extensive musical training, including piano, in St Petersburg; before partnering up in Europe (which in the early 20th century was incredibly interested (Europe), in Russian culture and folklore), with famous artists and patrons (mostly in Paris, and London).

Balanchine served in particular, in 1925, as Ballet Master with Diaghilev’ “Ballets Russes”, and became at the age of 21, the main choreographer of the most prestigious ballet company, until Diaghilev’s death in 1929; and later, in 1933, after moving from a company to another, Balanchine founded his own company “Les Ballets”. Balanchine, also met, that year, with iconic patron, Lincoln Kirstein, with whom he decided to open up in NYC, a ballet school: The School of American Ballet, which opened up quickly after, the following year.

How about that?

What can we say of Balanchine’s unique technique?

Because Balanchine was also, the son of a composer, and had gained early on in life, in addition to his dance studies, a thorough education in music including composition, which far exceeded most of his fellow choreographers’; as such, Balanchine was considered, by many, as revolutionary; as a musician who choreographed; and was highly respected in terms of musicianship, by his musician/composer/choreographer/visual artist peers.

How about that?

Balanchine’s technique therefore, was distinctive, highly precise, musically speaking; and he streamlined as well, classical dancing technique, asking for great balance, control, and ease of movement; longer lines, deeper lunges, and more open arabesques, from his dancers.

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The drama for him, resided in the dance; movement for him, solely related to the music.

How about that?

Isn’t it awesome, and so freeing, creatively speaking?

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Interestingly also, Balanchine often, because of the added creativity, I suspect, preferred plotless pieces of ballet music, to the usual fairytale ballets, which he still did, choreograph for, of course, at times.

How modern!

How imaginative!

How fresh!

In terms of artistic influence, Balanchine throughout his life, showed particular affection for his Russian culture, and was a huge fan and promoter, of great Russian artists, including composers: Tchaikovsky’s ballet music, of course, particularly delighted him; especially pieces composed in close partnership with French choreographer, and Premier Maitre de Ballet for the Imperial theaters of St Petersburg, Marius Petipa, which included “Swan Lake”, “The Nutcracker” and “The Sleeping Beauty” (his favorite); as well as Prokofiev, and Stravinsky.

How wonderful!

Balanchine worked also closely, with many other famous musicians, from Debussy, Satie, Ravel, Milhaud to Weill; to mention just a few.

And in terms of set and costume design, many other established visual artists, partnered with Balanchine, over the years: from Picasso, Matisse, Rouault, to Chagall of course.

And now, let’s get back to music, one of Balanchine’s most treasured short pieces “Allegro brillante”, which premiered in New York’ City Center of Music and drama, in 1956; a plotless piece, set to Tchaikovsky’s Third Piano Concerto, which happens to be the first short ballet of our “All Balanchine” program last Wednesday; a piece created at the time, believe it or not, to showcase the talents of a beautiful, wonderfully unique, electrifying and athletic American ballerina, Maria Tallchief, the first NYCB Prima ballerina, after dancing in 1949 “Firebird” (more on that in a moment), and from Native American descent (Osage nation).

Wasn’t she gorgeous?

And now, let’s listen, and watch as well, one of NYCB’s current beautiful, and highly graceful, principal ballerinas, Megan Fairchild, describe with her words “Allegro brillante”, and how challenging physically, Tchaikovsky’s Third Piano Concerto is, in addition to being awesomely beautiful, fast paced, precise, intense and also, incredibly harmonious, just as is, Balanchine’s intricate choreography, for the principal dancer.

How about that!

Balanchine would say about this expressive and romantic concerto: “it contains everything I know about the classical ballet, in 13 minutes”.

How inspiring!

Isn’it just incredibly beautiful?

And “Allegro Brillante” was danced beautifully last Wednesday, by lovely, talented and charming, principal dancer, Tiler Peck, who partnered seamlessly with attentive and equally talented, Tyler Angle.

Just wonderful!

And the Corps de ballet, was equally sumptuous to watch, with beautiful costumes by Karinska.

What a treat!

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The second piece of our “All Balanchine” evening, we were given to admire, last Wednesday, this time, was called “La Source”; which premiered in 1968 in New York’s State theater, with music from 19th century French composer extraordinaire, Delibes; a wonderfully gifted, expressive and imaginative musician, often entranced, (just like yours truly), with folkloric tales and myths.

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Balanchine’s desire to use more of Delibes’ music, prompted him to choreograph “La Source”, by incorporating music from two of Delibes’ fairy tale-like/plot centric ballets: firstly, Balanchine incorporated “musical” excerpts of the “La Source” (called also “Naïla”) ballet: which describes an “exotic” myth, set in Persia, whose plot revolves around a water nymph, helping a young hunter find happiness, with his love interest (a beautiful princess he has fallen in love with, while traveling in a rocky desert, in which he has picked an inaccessible flower the princess was admiring); and secondly, Balanchine incorporated also, other musical excerpts of another fairytale/greek myth-like Delibes ballet: “Sylvia”: whose plot revolves around a chaste nymph huntress, who scorns a young shepherd, and who is later reunited with him, thanks to Eros).

Oh boy!

And described as such, both Delibes plot centric ballets, sound perhaps, a tad “corny”; and maybe, Balanchine as well, felt a need to streamline them, make them essentially “music centric”, or in other words, plotless vs plot centric.

Who knows?

Still, I think that Delibes’s extraordinary melodic and musical talents, were such, that all versions (folkloric /plot centric or streamlined/plotless) were all awe-inspiring; believe it or not, but, even the great Tchaikovsky, was a huge fan of Delibes’ plot centric “Sylvia”: in particular, Tchaikovsky was so fond of “Sylvia”‘s score, that he thought, it far surpassed his own “Swan lake”, and said so, to Delibes.

How about that?

And actually, I am quite sure, that many of you, know this musical excerpt of “Sylvia”, which shaped as well various highly talented ballerinas careers, such as this one, the beautiful Darcey, here, dancing with a “Royal Ballet” version of this ballet:

Enjoy!

Let’s listen now, to this gorgeous “Andante” from “La Source” called also “Naïla”.

Isn’t it beautiful musically as well?

And for fun, let’s now watch the gorgeous costumes, by Lacroix of course, for l’Opéra de Paris’ recent plot centric version of “La Source”, to a different choreography:

Enjoy:

Isn’t it breathtaking as well?

Of course, Delibes knew a thing or two, about describing musically, exoticism, beautiful nature, or flowers, in plot centric ballets, and even in opera.

Here, for fun again, let’s listen to a beautiful excerpt, from his “Lakmé” opera, which is also, so incredibly gorgeous, expressive, and poetic, musically speaking.

Enjoy!

Told you!

But let’s get back to the second piece, the present plotless “La Source”, we admired last Wednesday, wonderfully danced by the NYCB.

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So marvelous, expressive and stupendous to watch, as well!

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And charming and extremely graceful principal dancer, Megan Fairchild, alongside mesmerizing Gonzalo Garcia, were wonderfully in sync, and made this current streamlined, plotless version of “La Source”, absolutely delightful.

What great technique, just incredible!

I only wish, the costumes were more abstract and muted, than they actually were, to enhance even more, the dancing.

Because the dancing was so breathtaking!

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And as beautiful as well, as this ballet excerpt, from the ABT, and I am not a huge fan of the costumes there, either; yet, their dancing to Balanchine’s stunning, streamlined, choreography of “Sylvia’s” Pas de deux, here, is just superb!

Enjoy:

Of course, a part of me, would have loved to see the folkloric/exotic plot centric tale version of both “Sylvia” and “La Source” called also “Naïla”, filled with demi gods (for “Sylvia”) and magical water sprites (for “Naïla”), which could have been enchanting and charming as well; but that will be, for another time!

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Finally, let’s mention, my favorite piece of our “All Balanchine” evening, last Wednesday: the magical “Firebird”ballet.

“Firebird”, based on Russian/slavic folklore, and composed in 1910, by Stravinsky, aged only 28, at the time, (and which premiered with the NYCB, in 1949), is simply a masterpiece.

How about that?

And “Firebird” was originally a commissioned in 1910, from Diaghilev, the founder of the “Ballets Russes”, and was a major success at the time, for Stravinsky, Diaghilev, and choreographer Fokine.

Stravinsky was granted great liberty; great freedom to express his personal view/version of this folkloric tale (there are many variations to this dark, yet optimistic fairytale), about a magical, mythical, and loyal bird, half bird, half woman; and its extraordinary capacity to protect humans, (with its pure light, emanating from its feathers), humans displaying goodness, and respect for others; and human protection against dark sorcery, as the tale unfolds, is needed; and the enchanted, enchanting, benevolent bird, will indeed, reward the heroic prince choosing righteousness, in the end of the story, with happiness.

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Stravinsky worked on “Firebird” as well later, with Balanchine, with great pleasure evidently; Balanchine simplified the story, and music and choreography together were just stunning and seamless (which Balanchine tweaked a few times again, over the years; and for the dark “episode” concerning Kastchei the Wizard, and his subjects, Balanchine also collaborated with Robbins), and Balanchine granted the leading role to wonderfully athletic and expressive Maria Tallchief, which propelled her to stardom, as the first NYCB Prima ballerina.

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What incredible partnerships, between these great artists!

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And that’s not all, Balanchine also, partnered with his esteemed friend and artist extraordinaire, Chagall, for “Firebird’s” delightfully, beautiful and monumental sets, as well for the imaginative costumes (especially the evil ones), although all (costumes), are awesome; all of which, Karinska, then, executed.

And Chagall’s six huge set/painting pieces, are so gorgeous (these paintings), that they alone, are worth seeing, in this incredibly creative context.

And each time I admire them in the David H. Koch theater, they literally take my breath away, because of their unique imaginative and extraordinary hues and style, and their huge scale!

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But first, let’s listen to the prelude, that depicts the upcoming chilling, dark and light magical story, which will end well, in an absolutely superb, mysterious, suspenseful, and of course, highly imaginative and graceful manner.

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Enjoy!

Isn’t just brilliant?

Let’s now, listen and watch, what Teresa Reichlen, another of NYCB’ beautiful and incredibly talented principal dancers, has to say about this awesome masterpiece.

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https://youtu.be/pDe_Wd6XFjg

Isn’t it compelling?

Just riveting!

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And last Wednesday, Ashley Bouder, the athletic and expressive principal dancer, as the “Firebird”, was exquisite and electric, and so was Andrew Veyette, as the dashing prince.

Just wonderful!

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I never tire of “Firebird”, because, to me, all the creative partnerships that went into this great work, greatly enhance this masterpiece’s beauty, and have made it truly, a magical icon.

Stuff of legend!

Yesterday, today, and for many generations to come!

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Just like Kurt Weill’s partnership to Ira Gershwin, celebrating Manhattan here, in 1945, in this fun, silly, and joyful song, would, I am sure, have made George Balanchine smile; as like me, I know, he loved the United States, Native Americans, and Manhattan in particular, as well.

Happy Birthday Mr B.!

Soft…

Fluttering…

Joyful…

Peaceful…

Happy …

Loving…

Eternal butterflies 😊