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"Modern Jazz: Variants" (NYCB and Modern Jazz Quartet)

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While listening to a recording by the Modern Jazz Quartet recently, I started thinking about a 1961 Balanchine ballet in which the MJQ played (and improvised upon) a Gunther Schuller score; Modern Jazz: Variants. (Or just Variants?)

I was still a teenager, and I was really thrilled by what I took to be the extreme sophistication of the piece. It was wonderful to know that ballet could be hip, cool, technically complex, and so contemporary all at the same time.

Repertory in Review has the details about the 1961 performances. The Swope photo triggered memories of the MJQ playing from stage right. The photo also captures a quality in Diana Adams that other photos, often focusing on her adagio dancing or the intricacies of Agon, do not. She was marvellous when she let go in Variants and just had fun.

Was this ballet ever revived by NYCB? Does anyone know about whether it was filmed, even in part? Or whether the score was recorded? Has anyone else seen it?

P.S.: It's incredible to think that Balanchine was able to create in this style, to this music, only a few months after creating the very, very different Liebeslieder Walzer.

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I think this may be one of the many lost ballets - I found out about it reading Edwin Denby's essay, Balanchine Choreography, in which Denby attempts to give a blow-by-blow account of what it is like to watch Balanchine's creation process in the studio. And Variants happens to be the ballet that Balanchine was creating under Denby's observation. So I guess in that sense, the ballet has been immortalized, but Denby noted that after the first performance, "there was polite applause". It makes one keenly aware that even for ballets that may flop, there is often an incredible amount of work going on behind the scenes in preparation for the opening night.

"Between September and November, he made four new pieces. The first, set to the most recent Stravinsky score [Monumentum pro Gesualdo ???], was followed by a ballet to Donizetti music; then he presented an hour-long ballet set to two song cycles by Brahms and called Liebeslieder Walzer. Liebeslieder Walzer -- with a cast of eight -- turned out to be a masterpiece, glorious and magical. No other choreographer, no other company could have done it; but one isn't aware of that, the poetry of it -- the secret image -- is so absorbing. Two weeks after Liebeslieder he presented Ragtime, a duet witty and deceptively elementary in the way the Stravinsky score is. Six days after Ragtime, he began Variants."

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