Stecyk

George Balanchine's Serenade

29 posts in this topic

This post was originally posted at Ballet Talk for Dancers.

Being a newcomer to the world of ballet, what should I look for in Alberta Ballet's upcoming performance of George Balanchine's Serenade? Or, put differently, as a newcomer, how can I derive the most benefit from this performance?

I know to most of you, my question seems odd or, perhaps, obvious. If you were advising someone like me, who has no background in dance, what would you say is important?

Perhaps given my question, you are curious as to why I am even bothering to attend. One of my passions is photography, and having seen many beautiful photographs of dancers, I am attracted by the aesthetics. In past threads, I have highlighted some of Joe McNally's photographs of dancers. Through his photography, he captures a certain majesty and purity. I am not sure exactly how to describe his photographs or why I like them, but I do.

And having been following this forum for a while, I am even more intrigued. I am impressed by the passion, commitment, and physical requirements to be a dancer.

I find the ballet world is so different and so foreign, just as my world is equally different and foreign to dancers. And, that's part of the magic. I am looking forward to learning more.

I am reading Apollo's Angels by Jennifer Homans, though I am still near the beginning.

So if anyone has suggestions as to how I can derive the most enjoyment from the upcoming ballet, I would be most appreciative.

As an addendum, gav indicated that NBoC publishes "Ballet Notes" for each ballet it performs. Here's the one for Serenade: http://www.ballet.ca/pdf/education/BalletNotes/Alice.pdf.

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The first thing I would suggest, if it's still an option, is to get yourself a balcony seat. You'll want an overhead view because the floor patterns in this ballet are something else, like looking into a kaleidoscope.

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The opening pose, with 17 dancers in side-by-side diamond shapes, is one of the most beautiful and iconic images in ballet. The dancers hold the pose for several seconds before moving their hands and arms and finally the feet and legs, and you will get the full impact of the opening tableau longer than in most ballets.

Also watch in the last performed movement for the tableaus for the leads that Balanchine took from statues.

The ballet was first created in 1934 for the students of wide-ranging training and ability that were in Balanchine's classes. Quite a bit of the structure of the piece was determined by who showed up at rehearsals -- if there were five dancers, he choreographed for five dancers -- and what happened there: most famously, he left a rehearsal fall in the piece, although it is danced a lot more gracefully. There were far more leads, because he did not have a hierarchical company with first dancers; over time the various solos were grouped among three female leads. The third movement you see, which is the fourth movement of the music, was added to the work in 1940, and Balanchine tweaked with the work a number of times over the years.

If anything is considered a signature piece for New York City Ballet, it is "Serenade". Enjoy!

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The first thing I would suggest, if it's still an option, is to get yourself a balcony seat. You'll want an overhead view because the floor patterns in this ballet are something else, like looking into a kaleidoscope.

When I called in to purchase the tickets, I mentioned that I was unfamiliar with the ballet and Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. Because I called late into the season, about two weeks prior to the show, and wanted one of the better locations, I beleive my choices were somewhat limited. I don't recall if the balcony seats were still available. Perhaps they were. As I recall, I am off to the side in a raised portion. In any event, I am sure that I'll enjoy the performance.

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Thank you for your reply Helene. I had not realized that this ballet is a signature piece. I am positive that it will be a visual feast.

Again, thank you for your reply.

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Lucky you. Getting to see the entire Serenade. Youtube has portions of it available for viewing. I don't know how familiar you are with Tschaikovsky's Serenade for Strings but if you don't know it, I would suggest trying to get familiar with it. Balanchine is known for making the music visible. Whenever I hear the opening strains of the music on the radio I have to hold up my right hand as if sheilding my eyes from the sun. If that makes no sense now, it will after you see the performance.

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Thank you for your reply Helene. I had not realized that this ballet is a signature piece. I am positive that it will be a visual feast.

Again, thank you for your reply.

I have just one thing to add. There is a wonderful documentary about Balanchine which talks about how Serenade is an early work in which - (paraphrasing here) - Balanchine turns ordinary women into dancers. I had seen the ballet many, many times before I saw that documentary but now I love bringing that thought to the experience of seeing that ballet.

Please let us know what your impressions of the work are after you've seen it.

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Lucky you. Getting to see the entire Serenade. Youtube has portions of it available for viewing. I don't know how familiar you are with Tschaikovsky's Serenade for Strings but if you don't know it, I would suggest trying to get familiar with it. Balanchine is known for making the music visible. Whenever I hear the opening strains of the music on the radio I have to hold up my right hand as if sheilding my eyes from the sun. If that makes no sense now, it will after you see the performance.

Thank you for the helpful reply. Given that I have two weeks, I will be sure to watch some YouTubes. And I completely understand your comment about shielding yourself from the sun.

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vipa, I will most certainly come back and provide my thoughts. I am really looking forward to the ballet. As with anything new, it takes a while to develop an understanding and critical eye. Obviously, I don't possess sufficient background to fully appreciate the ballet. Even so, I am sure that I will enjoy the experience.

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Thank you for your reply Helene. I had not realized that this ballet is a signature piece. I am positive that it will be a visual feast.

Again, thank you for your reply.

Do you know what Stecyk, I really think if you go in with these thoughts you're asking for trouble. I mean, what if you hate it, Balanchine didn't choreograph Serendae thinking that it would be a signature piece, or masterpiece or that it would still be performed some seventy years later. It was a piece made on 17 women with indifferent levels of technique who were only able to turn up to rehearsals sporadically when he was at the start of a career in the USA which he really didn't know if he'd be a success. Certainly he can't have known about just how successful his vision of ballet would be become nor how much of a statement piece Serenade would become and of course over the decades it's changed markedly.

The back story only means anything because it's been performed over 70 years tens of thousands of times throughout the world, but all it is is a 20 minute plotless ballet, all plot about woman becoming ballerina is extraneous, its place in ballet history you could argue is accident rather than design.

To enjoy and appreciate ballet all you need is an open mind and if you've not had much experience in watching ballet or indeed any art form the most important thing is thinking what it means to you, not what you've read about it or what you should be thinking.

And there's nothing wrong if it isn't a visual feast, or if you find it banal, unmoving, inconsequential or can't see what all the fuss is about. I often think that appreciating an art form fully starts with just "not getting it" on first view, coming away thinking "what's the point" or "i've just wasted an hour of my life watching this dross, sixty minutes which I will never get back". A bad reaction is just as worthy and important as a positive one. The biggest love of my dance viewing life is the Merce Cunningham Dance Company but I had to see the company about six times before I really clicked with it, the first time I hated it and couldn't understand why anyone would enjoy it, but that hatred and confusion were important because it kept me coming back.

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I think you will enjoy it, Stecyk. “Serenade” is on my shortlist of ballets to recommend to people just discovering the art form.

The back story only means anything because it's been performed over 70 years tens of thousands of times throughout the world,

Well, yes…..

Here’s an old “Serenade” topic, with a few comments.

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Do you know what Stecyk, I really think if you go in with these thoughts you're asking for trouble. I mean, what if you hate it, Balanchine didn't choreograph Serendae thinking that it would be a signature piece, or masterpiece or that it would still be performed some seventy years later.

I am not at all worried. I am predisposed to like it. I will be looking for reasons to enjoy the ballet, not to see whether it measures up to my standards of entertainment.

As I mentioned in my opening post, I enjoy photography. Although not a good photographer myself, after several years of exposure (pun intended), I have developed my own tastes. I know why a photograph, technically, usually appeals to me or doesn't. As we experience new art forms, it takes a while to develop an appreciation.

With this thread, I am hoping to jump start my education. Of course, I will allow the experience to sink in. However, if I know what I should be watching for, then my appreciation of this art form will be even stronger.

I believe the Alberta Ballet has a strong reputation. So, from my viewpoint, the challenge is on me to find the beauty and enjoyment in the ballet.

I am aware, of course, that if expectations are too high, there is no where to go but down. I understand that. So I don't have any expectations to be awed or entertained. Instead, I expect to view an artform and to challenge myself to learn and appreciate it. Like most everything that is worthwhile, learning and appreciating will take time and effort. The good news is that I expect it to be an enjoyable journey.

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I remember once exiting the First Ring of the State Theater after a particularly beautiful matinee performance of Serenade. Two elderly women, with their New York accents, were walking next to me. "Whatja think?" asked one. The other one shrugged: "I guess it was OK, if you go for splendor."

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I remember once exiting the First Ring of the State Theater after a particularly beautiful matinee performance of Serenade. Two elderly women, with their New York accents, were walking next to me. "Whatja think?" asked one. The other one shrugged: "I guess it was OK, if you go for splendor."

To play upon the Simon and Garfunkel's lyrics from The Boxer.

Still a woman sees what she wants to see

And disregards the rest

I suppose we are all selective. We focus on that which we deem important or beautiful and disregard the rest.

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Stecyk, I think Serenade has probably had as much impact on balletgoers as Swan Lake; it's plotless, of course, so this is a different discussion, but the beauty and sculptural nobility of the images, the endless opportunities for ravishing dancing, the tableaux (the opening one alone!), the divine score, the imagination of a young genius which is so apparent here--all these have spoken eloquently for years.

I, for example, was not delighted to read about the idea of the women and the man in the Elegy (the final movement) being a sordid little love triangle with the Other Woman getting left at the end. To me this is not only odious, tedious, and loathsomely petit-bourgeois, it is asininely reductive in the worst POSSIBLE way; Balanchine himself used to say when asked what one of his ballets was 'about',

'Ten or fifteen minutes, dear..." which is an explication I vastly prefer, LOL.

One more detail: should you listen to the Serenade before the performance (which I think is an excellent thing) you'll notice that the Tema Russo and Elegie are reversed in the Balanchine setting. in the score the Tema Russo is the finale. I believe it will be clear to you why Balanchine made this choice...

It's been mentioned before in this thread that you should enjoy the ballet on YOUR own terms, as something you experience individually and personally, and I think that is essential. It's even okay if you don't think it's a 'masterpiece', lol, or if you 'don't go for splendor'--but I certainly hope you will.

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Stecyk, I think Serenade has probably had as much impact on balletgoers as Swan Lake; it's plotless, of course, so this is a different discussion, but the beauty and sculptural nobility of the images, the endless opportunities for ravishing dancing, the tableaux (the opening one alone!), the divine score, the imagination of a young genius which is so apparent here--all these have spoken eloquently for years.

<snip>

It's been mentioned before in this thread that you should enjoy the ballet on YOUR own terms, as something you experience individually and personally, and I think that is essential. It's even okay if you don't think it's a 'masterpiece', lol, or if you 'don't go for splendor'--but I certainly hope you will.

jsmu, thank you for your thoughtful and eloquent post. I will be watching the imagery, not trying to determine any plot or storyline.

I am looking forward to the experience, for I know it's going to be a great introduction to a new art form. Again, thank you for your post.

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Stecyk, sorry, I should have explained more clearly that the women in my little story were doing the New York deadpan. Translated to ordinary speech, the exchange would probably be something like: "Wasn't that wonderful?" "My god, it was glorious!"

Lucky you! My suggestion would be just to relax and soak it in. As those two old women show, Serenade is one of those beautiful works of art that, once experienced, are with you for the rest of your life.

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You've gotten a lot of advice, Stecyk, and all I can add is the suggestion that you take a deep breath and not try too hard. Just let it wash over you. The greater your ability to see the dancers as units of an organic whole, the better, at least for now.

One of my most revelatory Serenades was a televised performance that gave me even more distance than my usual nosebleed seat. The relationship between the floor patterns (so well described as kaleidoscopic by volcanohunter) and the music became inevitable.

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@ Anthony_NYC: Thank you for clarifying the New York deadpan humor. It escaped me, so I am glad you added your comment.

@ carbro: I am positive that I will enjoy the performance. I am looking forward to increasing my knowledge and understanding.

Thank you everyone for your sharing your enthusiasm and comments.

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... as a newcomer, how can I derive the most benefit from this performance?

Stecyk...with such glorious score it will hard not to enjoy your attendance even if the dancing doesn't do it for you-(which I'm quite positive won't be the case...and hey...take this from THE neophyte in Balanchinean repertoire). :thumbsup:

The opening tableaux/music bars are just so painfully beautiful...

Edited to add: Please, report back if you spot Hayna Gutierrez in any of the leads... :wink:

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Please, report back if you spot Hayna Gutierrez in any of the leads... :wink:

I will be pleased to comment. I am sure to enjoy the ballet. In fact, there are two ballets that evening.

Serenade & Vigil of Angels

Two encore presentations grace the Alberta Ballet stage in what Artistic Director Jean Grand-Maître is calling "an evening of personal favourites". This program will feature one of ballet's greatest 20th century masterpieces, George Balanchine’s exquisite Serenade, the legendary choreographer's deeply moving hommage to his most beloved composer, Tchaikovsky and Jean Grand-Maître’s meditative explorations on life and death, Vigil of Angels. Join us for this soothing and spiritual journey filled with soaring angels of beauty. Our olympian dancers' poetic athleticism will inspire us to remember all that is good in life.

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The caveat about the music is that Balanchine switched the third and fourth movements for the ballet. If you're used to the music in the order of the score, you may get a jolt when the fourth movement starts before the third. Since I didn't know the music before I saw the ballet, I get a jolt in the concert hall when they start the (real) third movement "too early".

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Speaking of the overhead experience, here's a great short clip that DNB produced as part of their promotion for their A La Russe performances:

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Here's my blog article after having seen the two ballets: Alberta Ballet: Serenade & Vigil of Angels.

Through the discussions of Grand-Maître, Borne and Vallone, my most important learning was just to enjoy the beauty of the ballet. Grand-Maître encouraged the audience to superimpose our own life experiences onto the ballet because there was no definitive or correct interpretation. He further commented that these ballets are meant to soothe the soul, especially in these turbulent and troubling times. And Jean made one last remark where he quoted Balanchine's comment, "See the music, hear the dance."

I loved Serenade. There is so much to appreciate with the dance patterns and technical pointe work. The cool blues dresses together with the dancers' light movement created stunning imagery. I was amazed at watching how effortless the dancers moved through their dance. Of course, the easier it looks likely implies that it is extraordinarily difficult to achieve.

And to respond to cubanmiamiboy, Hayna Gutierrez played a pivotal role in Vigil of Angels, the second ballet that evening.

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I'm so glad you enjoyed it, it is a beautiful ballet. Over the years of watching Balanchine's work, one of the things I find most interesting about Serenade is that it is both typical and atypical of his work at the same time in both subject and construction.

Serenade is one of the most enduring of the ballets and the most changed from its first performances in the 30s. There were no men. Only three movements were performed (I think the fourth was added in '41 - but I'm not near my references) The soloist sections have been divided in several different ways.

Structurally it's freer than some later works, which are more "gridded." Balanchine uses more circles and irregular shapes when moving the corps around.

It's more openly allusive than a work like Agon or The Four Temperaments. Balanchine had a romantic streak in him - this is perhaps the most clear example.

It will be interesting to see if Serenade comports with your idea of a "Balanchine" ballet, or if that shifts over time.

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