Anna Kisselgoff saw the 1993 NYCB revival and included some details in her review of the whole program in The New York Times for May 11 that year:
On first viewing, this engaging 15-minute piece does not come across as major Balanchine, possibly because it is burdened with a whiff of a sentimental "outsider" motif. Nonetheless, this anecdotal pretext does not detract from the formal, quirky invention that runs through the choreography. Balanchine meets the Russian-born American composer, Alexei Haieff, on the same poetic, playful ground.
"Divertimento," as the work was originally called, can be seen as one of the choreographer's experimental ballets to contemporary music, but it is also close to being a showcase for classical footwork like the 1957 "Square Dance."
The City Ballet revival by Richard Tanner, based on Francisco Moncion's staging in Kansas City, is danced with straightforward zip and charm. The opening "Prelude" has four couples (Arch Higgins and Zippora Karz, Alexander Ritter and Kathleen Tracey, Robert Wersinger and Catherine Ryan, Russell Kaiser and Yvonne Borree) bowing. Nilas Martins, the loner, reaches out to an invisible partner.
The ebullient dancing starts and stops after Wendy Whelan, in Holly Hynes's white tunic (the others are in turquoise and gray), begins the "Aria," essentially a duet with Mr. Martins. It is full of twisted, sculptured swoons and splayed fingers thrust toward a partner. The "Scherzo" features male solos and the meat comes in the ballerina's solo in the "Lullaby," with Miss Whelan's superlative rendering of the choreography's angular contours. In the "Finale," she perches, two feet parallel, on Mr. Martins's lap, only to disappear. The ballet is lighthearted: the hero will recover.
Well, better a hasty sketch than nothing at all! And I'm glad "The hero will recover"! Maybe we'll see what that means.
Edwin Denby liked the original. Writing in Spring of 1947, he said:
Divertimento is quick and sharp. It has a hint of juvenile romance, a curiously tender, very novel pas de deux, a virtuoso girl's solo that looks all simple and dewy, and a wonderful ending.
Robert Garis recollected in the late '90s that it had been
the first ballet with a distinctly erotic perfume I had encountered, which featured the rare, exotic pairing of Maria Tallchief and Francisco Moncion (it did not come to life for me in the revival during the 1993 Balanchine celebration)
Arlene Croce, writing about that "celebration" just afterward, complained, consistently with Garis's later comment, that
... the Haieff Divertimento, a relic of 1947, was danced in a style more appropriate to a Martins ballet...
In Balanchine's Complete Stories of the Great Ballets, this ballet is not described, but in an interview in the back of the book, the choreographer happens to choose it as an example of one way he would sometimes work:
There is always music that I wish to arrange dances to. Sometimes I make the ballets right away, if this is possible. One night, some years ago, the composer Alexei Haieff played me some pieces of his on the piano. I liked the music, but I didn't think of producing a ballet. Several days later, when this music kept running through my head, I wanted very badly to make dances to it. The result was Divertimento. If I were a poet, I'd probably have written a poem about what this music sounded like and looked like; but I am a choreographer, a dancer, and only in dancing do I express myself naturally...
"What this music... looked like." Ah, yes. As usual, when I expect to watch a good performances of a Balanchine ballet, I'm keenly anticipating seeing what the music looks like to Mr. B...