'But Alicia, how did you let him put this or that in the choreography...?
I always liked that comment – in the video she says Tallchief told her, "Why did you let George do that to you!" Alonso also talks about the complexity of the beats – how the last was the first of the next set.
Here's some snippets from the original review from John Martin in the New York Times, Nov 27, 1947 to give an idea of the way in which it was initially received, and how Balanchine had turned a corner with the reviewers:
After the premiere of George Balanchine’s brilliant “Theme and Variations” by the Ballet Theatre at City Center last night, it will probably never be necessary again to revive a Petipa ballet ...
[Balanchine] has set two vocal solo figures against a dual background consisting of four secondary soloists and a corps de ballet, and through the earlier variations has achieved some truly marvelous three-voiced developments ...
In the detail of the choreography he had used many of the devices for which he has sometimes been criticized in the past – difficult and slightly eccentric adagio passages, twinings and intertwinings of the ensemble under each other’s arms, and the like – but not in a singe instance does he overstep the beautiful purity of the style he has announced in the original statement of the theme ...
Alicia Alonso dances the central role superbly and manages to maintain a gracious ease that overrides the technical difficulties in its path as if it were non existent. Igor Youskevitch has slightly less in the way of opportunity but acquits himself magnificently.
And along the lines of what Bart was saying elsewhere about neoclassicism and classicism, John Martin goes on in longer piece in the Times, A Balanchine Masterpiece for Ballet Theatre, Dec 17, 1947 to say –
Theme and Variations far surpasses the authentic Petipa we have inherited. It speaks in our own terms, respects our formal demands, cuts away the detritus of obsolete usage, and gives us the spirit of another era in the body of an altogether contemporary masterpiece.
& some qualifications –
It is true that the literal follwing of the theme-and-variations patterns makes for several theatrically gaunt transitions, as when the two principal figures walk off stage in silence after stating the theme, and when one or two of the earlier variations are allowed to arrive at full stop. But if these breaks are questionable on theatrical grounds, they assuredly make for clarity in the formal development.
On one side of the review is a wonderful full figure picture of Merce Cunningham sort of ready to pounce. and on the other, Agnes Moorehead in "Sorry, Wrong Number".