The David H. Koch building/ Stravinsky’s “Suite No.2 for small orchestra”, “Apollo”, ” Orpheus”, and “Agon” Tuesday May 10th, 2022.
Welcome back friends!
This week, welcome to week 2, of the awesome and rich, NYCB 2022 Stravinsky festival!
Yay! yay! yay!
A very special NYCB festival, this 2022 Stravinsky festival, let me remind you, showcasing over two weeks, at the David H. Koch building, 14 ballets, with choreographies by Balanchine, Robbins and Justin Peck, all set to Stravinsky music, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Stravinsky festival.
Wow! And yay!
And this week, the four Stravinsky pieces (including three ballets), presented last Tuesday, were all beautifully choreographed by Balanchine.
And let me also remind you, that the initial 1972 Stravinsky festival had been created then, by George Balanchine (1904-1983), the iconic Georgian-American ballet choreographer, particularly praised for his musicianship qualities, and who was one, if not, the most influential, 20th-century choreographer, and who also, co-founded in 1948, the NYCB company, and embodied it and animated it, as its Artistic Director, for more than 35 years.
And Balanchine, wanted, through this unusual, sizzling, and unique 1972 festival, to honor his closest creative collaborator, with whom he had partnered, in many works, for over almost five decades: I mean of course, the equally illustrious, and himself one of the most influential classical music composer and pivotal figure of modernist music ever, whose styles widely evolved throughout his long life: Russian born, composer, pianist and conductor, later of French (from 1934) and American (from 1945) citizenships: Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), who had died a year earlier.
And last Tuesday, the NYCB showcased four beautiful Stravinsky later works: two from evocative Greek myths, and two, more conceptual in nature, and all from Stravinsky’s mid musical era (and still very harmonious sounding): the 1921 “Suite No.2 for small orchestra”: a short musical work, the 1928 “Apollo or Apollon Musagète”: a short, Greek, myth inspired ballet, 1948 “Orpheus”: another short, Greek, myth inspired, ballet, and lastly, the more abstract, and beautiful, 1957 “Agon”: another short ballet, modeled after examples in a French dance manual of the 17th century.
What a treat!
1)The very first Stravinsky piece performed delightfully, for its great, joyful imagination, by the NYCB orchestra, last Wednesday, was 1921 “Suite No.2 for small orchestra”. A piece written between 1915 and 1917, by Stravinsky, comprising eight piano duets, in simple keys, with easy right-hand keys for his children, Theodore and Mika, to play with their father, in charge of the more complex left hand part.
And in 1921 and 1925, Stravinsky re-orchestrated these, as gently satirical Suites No. 1 and 2 for small orchestra.
Let’s now listen, and admire this short and beautiful 8 minutes piece, here performed by a different orchestra and conductor:
So lively and vibrant!
2)The next Stravinsky piece presented last Tuesday, is Balanchine’s oldest ballet in the NYCB repertory.
Created for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and originally titled “Apollon Musagète” (The leader of the Muses), 1928 “Apollo” ballet, was Balanchine’s first major collaboration with Stravinsky.
Wow! and yay!
Plot wise, Balanchine decided to set the ballet in Classical antiquity, in a contemporary, fun, simple, easy to read situation.
Basically Apollo, the Greek god of music, is visited by ethereal women of divine beauty: 3 Muses (out of the possible original 9 Greek Muses, for simplicity, and clarity reasons), before ascending to Mount Parnassus.
Wow! And yay!
Here are the 3 chosen gorgeous Muses:
1)Terpsichore, Muse of Dance and Song, who invented also the harp, and Muse of Education.
She was called Terpsichore because she particularly enjoyed dancing (“Terpo” in Greek refers to the fact of being amused). Terpsichore was depicted wearing laurels on her head, holding a harp and dancing.
2)Polyhymnia, Muse of Mime was the protector of the divine hymns and mimic art. She invented geometry and grammar. She was depicted looking up to the sky, holding a lyre.
3)Calliope, Muse of Poetry. Calliope was considered a superior Muse, accompanying kings and princes, in order to impose justice and serenity. She was the protector of heroic poems and rhetoric art. According to the myth, Homer asks from Calliope to inspire him while writing Iliad and Odyssey, and, thus, Calliope is depicted holding laurels in one hand and the two Homeric poems in the other hand.
Wow! and yay!
The other 6 Greek Muses are:
1)Clio who discovered history and guitar. History was named Clio in the ancient years, because it refers to “kleos” the Greek word for the heroic acts. Clio was always represented with a clarion in the right arm and a book in the left hand.
2)Euterpe who discovered several musical instruments, and Dialectic. She was always depicted holding a flute, while many instruments were always around her.
3)Thalia who was the protector of Comedy. She discovered comedy, geometry, architectural science and agriculture. She was always depicted holding a theatrical, comedy mask.
4)Melpomene who was the protector of Tragedy and rhetoric speech. She was depicted holding a tragedy mask, and usually bearing a bat.
5)Erato who was the protector of Love, as well as of weddings. Her name comes from the Greek word “Eros” which refers to the feeling of falling in love. She was depicted holding a lyre, love arrows and bows.
6)Ourania was the protector of the celestial objects and stars. She invented astronomy. She was always depicted bearing stars, a celestial sphere and a bow compass.
Wow! wow! wow!
And interestingly, this beautiful and mythical Greek inspired “Apollo” ballet with only 3 Muses, featured at its glamorous premiere in Paris, France, in 1928, and later in 1929, sets and costumes by other great artists of the time: French painter André Bauchant in 1928, and the following year, in 1929, the costumes were by Chanel.
Yet choreography, story, sets, and costumes were then, later, revised and streamlined, as Balanchine, always a fan of restraint, discipline, clarity, simplicity, and reinvention, continuously liked to eliminate the non essential, in this particular ballet.
Wow! And yay!
And last Tuesday evening, the dancing at the NYCB was precise, beautifully geometric, fast and joyful, from all dancers.
And Principal dancer, Taylor Stanley, as Apollo, was particularly breathtaking to watch, leaping with confidence and athleticism around the Muses.
So impressive and powerful!
And Tiler Peck, as Terpsichore, was wonderful, filled with joy and spunk, and wholeheartedly enjoying herself in this fun role, as were Brittany Pollack, as Polyhymnia, and Indiana Woodward, as Calliope.
Let’s watch a few scenes from this ballet, danced also beautifully a few years ago. Admire the fun accessories of each Muse, but especially, pay close attention to the expressiveness of their arms, hands, fingers, feet, and importantly as well, of their faces.
And what an incredible Apollo as well.
And get, of course, ready, first, to be utterly transported by Stravinsky’ wonderful music, so expressive and beautiful.
And finally, I am always a huge fan, of another trademark, show-stopping final image of this ballet: the 3 Muses dancing together, conclude the ballet unusually, by performing beautiful arabesques of various ascending heights, beside Apollo.
I love that “peacock like” arresting image.
3) And now, let’s turn our attention, to the third Stravinsky piece, presented last Tuesday evening, by the NYCB, the striking, dazzling 1948 “Orpheus” ballet, with beautiful, simple, and eye-catching scenery and costumes by Isamu Noguchi.
And here, yet again, Balanchine chose to tell a straightforward, uncomplicated version of this myth, for this stunning ballet.
Orpheus, is introduced on stage, dancing with a lyre, and the audience quickly realizes that he is a musician-poet. Orpheus actually happens to be the son of a Muse (probably Calliope, Muse of poetry), and either of Oeagrus, the king of Thrace, or of Apollo, who would have given him his lyre.
Orpheus’ singing and playing are so beautiful, that animals and even trees and rocks, moved about him in dance.
Admire this gorgeous, simple, and understandable depiction of Orpheus’ musical mastery.
Grief stricken over the death of his wife Eurydice, Orpheus’ wonderful music making, quickly leads him to meet a dark angel, who soon after, will lead him, blindfolded, underground, to Hades, the king of the Underworld.
And quick aside comment: the way the dark angel and Orpheus, both walk with difficulty in the underworld, in this 1948 “Orpheus” Balanchine ballet, as in slow motion, reminds me of course, of the stunning, superb and surreal 1950 “Orphée” movie by Cocteau, and specifically, evokes for me, the dark and poetic scenes, of Orphée, accompanied by Death, walking in slow motion as well, in the underworld.
Enjoy the great trailer of this film masterpiece:
And of course, I don’t know for sure, but I would like to imagine, that Cocteau had seen Balanchine’s 1948 “Orpheus” ballet, as Cocteau dreamed up his own images, for his 1950 “Orphée” film.
Let’s now get back to the story: once Orpheus gets to the underworld, his gorgeous music quiets the Furies (goddesses of vengeance and retribution who punished men for crimes against the natural order), his stunning music comforts as well, the Lost souls, and its beauty, also importantly, convinces Hades as well, to return Eurydice to him, Orpheus, under one harsh condition: Orpheus cannot look back at Eurydice, until they reach the upper realm on Earth.
Eventually, unfortunately for them both, Orpheus will be persuaded by Eurydice, to tear off his mask, and Eurydice will immediately, disappear back into the underworld.
The ballet later, ends as Apollo invokes the spirit of Orpheus, as the God of song.
And Principal Joseph Gordon, was spectacular and moving, as the grief stricken Orpheus, as was Ashley Laracey, as loving, yet irresponsible Eurydice. And I especially liked Andrew Scordato, as the Dark Angel, a role probably fun to dance, I would imagine.
Here is an excerpt of the ballet, danced a few decades ago, and edited, to summarize the plot:
Enjoy the dancing, and Stravinsky’s gorgeous music.
4) And finally, the last Stravinsky piece presented last Tuesday, is 1957 “Agon”: a conceptual black and white “leotard” ballet, quintessentially contemporary, in its abstraction, a ballet chosen by Balanchine, to showcase beautiful 17th century French dance, for the sheer beauty of the movements, including a variety of beautiful “Pas de Quatre”, “Pas de Trois” and “Pas de Deux”.
Wow! And yay!
Admire the beautiful lines.
As well as the strength and concentration needed, to produce such graceful results.
And always, as well, what terrific jumps.
Yay! yay! yay!
Let’s admire now, a final short excerpt of this 1957 “Agon” ballet, to give you a sense of the modernity of this beautiful and abstract work, here, danced by a different company.
So, to sum up my feelings, about the unique “Stravinsky Festival III” program, admired last Tuesday, at the David H. Koch building, in great company: yet again, what extraordinary, rich, beautiful and varied all Balanchine choreographies, on an array of musical styles from Stravinsky, from various eras, which not only, yet again, celebrated the joy of dancing, but also and importantly, which continued to commemorate and honor, with fiery, flaming, blazing passion, 2 great, iconic Performing Arts giants, of/from the 20th century. And this week, yet again, I would like to believe, that both Balanchine and Stravinsky, would have been utterly overjoyed by these outstanding performances.
And wow! wow! wow!
And bravo NYCB!
Go see the rest of the 2022 Stravinsky festival if you can, it ends May 15th!
Until next time friends!
Eternal butterflies 😊