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Monumentum Pro Gesualdo/Movements for Piano and Orchestra


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#1 Jack Reed

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Posted 13 June 2010 - 07:11 PM

Just ahead of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet's presentation of this ballet (or pair of ballets), I've tried to meld together commentary by the choreographer (from "Balanchine's Complete Stories of the Great Ballets") and by one of his most valuable chroniclers, Nancy Reynolds (from her "Repertory in Review: 40 Years of the New York City Ballet"):

The music of the two parts of Monumentum/Movements is an interesting contrast. In the first, Stravinsky was inspired by the music of Don Carlo Gesualdo (1560-1613, contemporary of Shakespeare, Caravaggio, and Monteverdi), "Prince of Madrigalists"; in spite of its radical chromaticism, his music was popular in its day. The three madrigals for five voices "recomposed" by Stravinsky are softer to the ear, their unexpected vocal harmonics muted by [being played by] instruments. Each lasts just over two minutes.

So too in Balanchine's choreography, for a leading dancer, her partner, and six couples, there is no hint of dissonant roughness but rather, chaste simplicity. Walking is the key movement, clear-cut patterns the motif, and courtly demeanor the tone. In the most robust sequence, the ballerina is thrown three times* into the upstretched arms of other [male] partners, but even here it is the suspended image of her full arabesque in flight, rather than the force of her trajectory, that leaves the impression.

Reynolds doesn't say much about the second part. Here are some of Balanchine's words:

In Movements for Piano and Orchestra, one of the composer's first works in serial style [each note in the theme or series having equal weight or importance] we have the composer speaking directly, in terms of his own preoccupations... The ballet is a double concerto for male and female dancers, both identified with the piano solo.

The ballet is in five parts, lasting eight and a half minutes. Each part begins with a short instrumental introduction. Two groups of three girls set the tone for each section and the lead couple takes up the music as the piano enters. I seriously think that the best preparation for seeing this ballet is to listen to Stravinsky's recording of it a number of times. Its complexity and compression are remarkable.


*See Post #3 below.

Edited by Jack Reed, 16 June 2010 - 06:27 AM.


#2 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 14 June 2010 - 04:54 AM

So too in Balanchine's choreography, for a leading dancer, her partner, and six couples, there is no hint of dissonant roughness but rather, chaste simplicity. Walking is the key movement, clear-cut patterns the motif, and courtly demeanor the tone.


My memories of the two ballets are kind of blurry but what I remember the most is that there was a great deal of posing and walking around...

#3 Jack Reed

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Posted 16 June 2010 - 06:26 AM

(from Washington, DC) For the record, the ballerina is thrown four times: In the last half or so of the third madrigal, the volume of the music rises and stays that way; and soon she is thrown, to our right. A few moments later, she's thrown right, left, and right again, and I suppose it's this sequence Reynolds has in mind. What Reynolds says about the impression these leave is spot on: Each time, somehow, the ballerina seems calmly suspended for a moment.

But walking around and posing rather than flowing, connected movement seems to me to answer to isolated chords (in Monumentum) and short notes of equal emphasis (in Movements). There's little of the shaped phrase to be heard here, or to be seen. In this sense, both ballets are more strongly "abstract" than those Balanchine (and many others) made to romantic music or from the classical period. (That's not to say his ballets lack overall formal composition in an abstract sense! Far from it.) As always, even when Balanchine himself is not so explicit as he is at the end of the quote I give above, listening closely is the best way into his dances.

#4 Natalia

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Posted 16 June 2010 - 07:11 AM

TSFB troupe did a very fine job last night with these two ballets. I was most impressed with Natalia Magnicaballi's reserved abandon - quite Farrellesque.

The other two offerings of the night were also well performed. Welch's Falling, to a Mozart score, had some lovely movements by exceptional dancers, such as Melody Herrera. However, the hit of the night among most audience members was, without a doubt, NCDT's Shindig, closing the evening with a bang.

The brief post-performance chat featured Patricia McBride and Suzanne Farrell together on the stage once again (along with Bonnefous, Welch and emcee Kim Kokich).

#5 Jack Reed

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Posted 16 June 2010 - 06:54 PM

My memories of the two ballets are kind of blurry but what I remember the most is that there was a great deal of posing and walking around...


(from Washington, DC) Walking about and posing rather than flowing, connected movement seems to me to answer to isolated chords (in Monumentum) and short notes of equal emphasis (in Movements). There's little of the shaped lyric phrase to be heard here, or to be seen. In this sense, both ballets are more strongly "abstract" than those Balanchine (and many others) made to romantic music or from the classical period. (That's not to say his ballets lack overall formal composition in an abstract sense.) As always, even when Balanchine himself is not so explicit as he is at the end of the quote I give above, listening closely is the best way into his dances.

#6 Jack Reed

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Posted 16 June 2010 - 07:45 PM

I suggest we discuss the ballet Monumentum/Movements here in this forum and the Ballet Across America event here:

http://ballettalk.in...showtopic=32014

#7 carbro

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Posted 16 June 2010 - 08:03 PM

Since the discussion of Monumentum/Movements is already here, may I ask posters to keep it all on the same thread? Simultaneous discussions on the same topic but multiple threads leads to double posting (which we discourage) and confusion.

I hope others will flesh out the Ballet Across America thread (linked by Jack Reed, above) with discussions about other ballets and companies highlighted.

:) :excl:


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