Paul Parish

"Glass Pieces" & "Symphony in Three Movements"

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Watching SFB dance Symphony in 3 Movements yesterday -- it was thrilling-- I was forcibly reminded of Glass Pieces: the way the principals jump into the midst of an ongoing "chaos' -- seems like it's a LOT like the way their counterparts do into the 'urban pedestrians' of Glass Pieces. Has anybody else noticed this? Is it written about?

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Very astute observation! These happen to be two of my very favorite ballets (and I continue to be dismayed that a complete recorded performance remains unavailable anywhere - I would happily purchase both). It's interesting that they were created about a decade apart and deal with very different situations: Symphony is bringing order out of the chaos of WWII and Pieces is bringing order out of the chaos of NYC in the early 80s after a decade of decline.

Another detail in Pieces that intrigues me: in the last movement, there is a section for the ensemble of male soloists that reminds me of the West Side Story dance "Stay Cool" -- a photo of which is on the NYCB site right now - the crouching move forward, the snapping fingers. And that's consistent with your observation of bringing order out of chaos.

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Funny - "Glass Pieces" passed through my mind as I was watching (I was also there yesterday and "Symphony" was thrilling) and then passed right out again, so thank you for posting your thoughts. To my knowledge, no, the parallel has not been written about, but you're definitely on to something. I can't say that I get any special "war" vibe from "Symphony in Three Movements," however....

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I can't say that I get any special "war" vibe from "Symphony in Three Movements," however....

The war imagery in the movement derives from Stravinsky's comments about the war's influence on the music. Here's a good essay from the LA Philharmonic with several of these comments:

http://www.laphil.com/philpedia/music/symphony-three-movements-igor-stravinsky

For example:

A seven-measure interlude leads to the finale, which the composer described as having been written in "reaction to the newsreels and documentaries I had seen of goose-stepping soldiers. The square march beat, the brass-band instrumentation, the grotesque crescendo in the tuba, these are all related to those abhorrent pictures... The exposition of the fugue and the end of the Symphony are associated in my plot with the rise of the Allies, and the final, rather too commercial D-flat sixth-chord; instead of the expected C; in some way tokens my exuberance in the Allied triumph..."

Much has been written about the movement, of course. Many see the front lines of battle in the long diagonal line of corps in white leotards. You can see fixed-wing aircraft in the arms in some sections and the crashing of bombs with emphatic two-footed jumps in others. One can see the choreography as pure abstraction but it's hard to un-ring the bell once you know Stravinsky's inspiration, which would surely have been known to Balanchine.

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It's an interesting and fruitful comparison, though I think of Symphony in Three Movements as a structure, or a series of structures, and Glass Pieces as a texture.

Symphony in Three seemed to me to begin where The Four Temperaments ended, with the first pink dancer shuttled overhead through the Four Temperaments-like crowd. Arms in Symphony are likewise held in serifed "T"s but also in "W"s, which is the figure the push-up men on the floor end with. (Then there are the witty"X" cossings of arms in the pas.)

I agree about the war vibe – it makes the ballet too programmatic to think of it in those terms, like the titles Beethoven's publishers sometimes gave his work.

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I agree about the war vibe – it makes the ballet too programmatic to think of it in those terms, like the titles Beethoven's publishers sometimes gave his work.

Although the War imagery did not come from Stravinsky's publishers - it came from Stravinsky, in many, lengthy quotes. It's interesting that Balanchine did not choreograph this until 1972, after Stravinsky's death, for the Stravinsky festival, 28 years after the music was composed. But it's reasonable to think Balanchine understood and shared Stravinsky's intense feelings while seeing the devastation of WWII on their first home, Russia, and their adopted home, western Europe, as they watched from the safety of the U.S. If his late friend could capture this in his music, could Balanchine express those feelings in movement? It's certainly possible and appropriate to look at the movement in purely dance terms, but the war imagery gives us a different set of insights into both of them.

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Although the War imagery did not come from Stravinsky's publishers - it came from Stravinsky, in many, lengthy quotes... But it's reasonable to think Balanchine understood and shared Stravinsky's intense feelings while seeing the devastation of WWII on their first home, Russia, and their adopted home, western Europe, as they watched from the safety of the U.S...

Yes, Symphony in Three Movements was definitely more programmatic than any other of Stravinsky's scores. According to Charles M. Joseph in Stravinsky and Balanchine, it did however begin life as film music for the "Apparition of the Virgin" scene in The Song of Bernandette. Balanchine, visiting Hollywood as it was being written, was "impressed by the jazzy score".

But on the other hand, Balanchine, at least in his modernist works, tended to strip away all local references and for the dance just to be visual music. He may have thought of Symphony in the terms that Joseph outlines:

The composition is a hybrid, both concerto and symphony... It deliberately scumbles the lines of identifiable musical “forms,” disputing the customary treatment of instruments in a way similar to that in which Balanchine often calls into question his own management of soloists and the corps.

I also remember one of the Joseph's ideas being that after Stravinsky's death, Balanchine felt he had a freer hand in setting choreography to Stravinsky's music. And that as of Agon, Balanchine was no longer was the junior member of the partnership.

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I DO feel a lot of conflict in the action -- esp in the first movement -- though it's not literally war-like

For me the most frightening moment is when the ballerina in palest pink [sunday, Vanessa Zahorian, but I first felt it when Lucia Lacarra did it 10 years ago here; both danced it excellently] makes a perfect circle of the stage doing perfect pique turns while the corps girls rush around her chaotically -- I thought she was giongto collide with somebody, like a planet passing through a chaos of asteroids -- or like a soldier moving through a hail of bullets. [i was sitting in the orchestra, seen horizontally, the screen of corps dancers really looks like ONE of them is gong to hit her, you don't know which; I'm told that from upstairs, it's exciting but does not look dangerous because you can see the trajectories do not intersect.

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From Quiggin's post in the SF Ballet forum:

Symphony in Three Movements, set to Stravinsky's score, seems to begin where Four Temperaments leaves off, but much more cooly and a little unattractively, with hard movements and diagonals which then break up into subsidiary groups and ideas, accented and softened with brilliant cabrioles. At the end of the movement the diagonal reassembles and a shiver goes through it, like the movement of a caterpillar traveling along a twig.

Nicely put. The "Egyptian" hands are another connection to The Four Temperaments. Symphony belongs to the corps in a way that Four Ts doesn't, but there does seem to be a link between the pulsating finale of the older ballet and the propulsive mass movements of Symphony. But the feeling for me is less Army than NASA, as if watching beings who are not quite human - except for those bouncy ponytails.

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"field of shrapnel" starts 0:55

Paul, those parts do become muddled – as if Balanchine loaded up his brush with too much paint, and was attempting too much. After I saw another performance I thought that he might be folding different planes of action and having them move thorough each other. And in a pre-perpormance talk, Katita Waldo and Charlene Cohen, who had also danced the ballet with Miami and Villella, commented on the counts and how at one point there are 5 girls and 5 boys doing different set of counts at the same time, so if they're off slightly that might cause some more muddle.

From what I remember of Glass Pieces, the movements and tempos seem crisper and more uniform, as does the music which is something of an extended arpeggio or monad – compared to Stravinsky's piece which divides against itself and in which the harp and piano are sometimes "duking it out" (to borrow a fight metaphor).

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those parts do become muddled – as if Balanchine loaded up his brush with too much paint, and was attempting too much. After I saw another performance I thought that he might be folding different planes of action and having them move thorough each other.

I once looked at archival tapes of early performances of Symphony at the NYPL Dance Collection. Initially, there were no pink leotards. Everybody was in black and white. (I don't recall if the opening corps was in all-white or black and white.) But apparently -- as others have suggested -- the complexity of different layers of movement was so dense that the differential of colored leotards was needed.

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to the best of my recall the opening ensemble was always in white.

but yes black-and-white was the initial scheme.

for at least one performance, when McBride danced the second movement(?) of SYMPHONY IN 3 MOVEMENTS, for a run in Wolf Trap Farm VA, she wore a white leotard, where previously a black leotard was worn.

[this post has been edited to remove an earlier comment about trying out the skirts from CLARINADE as costuming for one of Balanchine's Stravinsky Festival ballets, which when it first came to me here I associate with SYM IN 3 MOV, but which i now think i was confused about and that the proposed and then abandoned CLARINADE skirts were for the dress reh. of VIOLIN CONCERTO, not SYM IN 3 MOV.]

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For me the most frightening moment is when the ballerina in palest pink [sunday, Vanessa Zahorian, but I first felt it when Lucia Lacarra did it 10 years ago here; both danced it excellently] makes a perfect circle of the stage doing perfect pique turns while the corps girls rush around her chaotically -- I thought she was giongto collide with somebody, like a planet passing through a chaos of asteroids -- or like a soldier moving through a hail of bullets. [i was sitting in the orchestra, seen horizontally, the screen of corps dancers really looks like ONE of them is gong to hit her, you don't know which; I'm told that from upstairs, it's exciting but does not look dangerous because you can see the trajectories do not intersect.
One critic (sorry, don't remember who, but maybe Croce?) described that passage as resembling the signal on a radar screen, with the white radius moving counter-clockwise and the red dot clockwise. I love that image.

For me, it's easy to take in the war/military references without necessarily making 3 Movements into a programmatic ballet. The sense of danger (ha-ha -- I typed that as "dancer") is pervasive, even in the "cheerful" sections of the outer movements. And the second movement? I'm not sure it alludes to war in any way, but I love that pas.

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And the second movement? I'm not sure it alludes to war in any way, but I love that pas.

That's the movement that was originally written forset the "The Apparition of the Virgin" scene in the 1943 film Song of Bernadette, then recycled, according to Charles M. Joseph. Charlene Cohen said that Edward Villella referred to it as "the sanctuary," I guess in relation to the raucous outer movements. Yes, very beautiful despite being done in a sort of Morse or C++ computer code.

It's amazing that Symphony in Three Movements and Violin Concerto premiered the same night at the Stravinsky Festival, June 18, 1970 [1972] – and Divertimento from Le Baiser de la Fee a few days later. rg, anyone else remember the overall effect at the time?

[oops wrong year]

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Thanks, Quiggin, for those insights.

in Balanchhine's Stories of the Great Ballets, a wonderful book published by Doubleday (and mostly ghost-written by Francis Mason, but not entirely), Balanchine writes " after the ballet was in our repertory, I heard that the first movement of the symphony was actually composed as a possible accompaniment for a film about China and that the second was composed (but not used) for a film project -- the apparition-of-the-Virgin scene for the film of Werfel's Song of Bernadette.

"The Sanctuary" is a wonderful expression. Villella has a tremendous imagination and a wonderful way with words.

The outer movements remind me of the expression "the beautiful web of men," which is the Homeric epithet for war. Quiggin used the term "muddle," which is what the British used to call war.-- if you understand it at its highest sense, it mean that everybody's doing what they think best, under the most brain-addled circumstances, to do their duty. Muddle conjures more of the trench warfare, rain, muck, pulling your feet out of hte mud to slog on, when the ballet is pretty fleet-footed -- but the tangles balanchine put onstage though astounding, are CLEAR! And the more you look at htem, and see how the black-leotard people are doing their maneuvers to completely different counts from hte white-leotard folk, AND the pink-leotard folk have a totally different flow-chart they're following -- the more astounding it is, how CLEAR everything is. You can see it all, you just can't take it in -- it's like trying to follow everything going on in Merce Cunningham's "Sounddance" [a ballet that may well have had some influence on what Balanchine was doing].

WAY back when, Ninette de Valois said when she first ecountered Balnchine, she thought he was "a genius, a cross between a dancing-master and a general.":

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It's amazing that Symphony in Three Movements and Violin Concerto premiered the same night at the Stravinsky Festival, June 18, 1970 – and Divertimento from Le Baiser de la Fee a few days later. rg, anyone else remember the overall effect at the time?

A typo, I think? These premiered at the opening night of the 1972 Stravinsky Festival.

http://www.nycballet.com/Ballets/S/Symphony-in-Three-Movements.aspx

I did not have the great good fortune of seeing the Festival, but I remember mumblings beforehand that Balanchine was a burnt-out has-been and the Festival changed all of that. I'd be curious if that's the sense of others who saw that remarkable opening night.

(In one of these amazing coincidences of history, the Watergate burglary was the night before.)

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It's amazing that Symphony in Three Movements and Violin Concerto premiered the same night at the Stravinsky Festival, June 18, 1970 – and Divertimento from Le Baiser de la Fee a few days later. rg, anyone else remember the overall effect at the time?

A typo, I think? These premiered at the opening night of the 1972 Stravinsky Festival.

Nancy Goldner's book The Stravinsky Festival does list them as premiering on June 18, the first night. Divertimento from Le Baiser de la Fee is listed on the third evening, June 21.

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It's amazing that Symphony in Three Movements and Violin Concerto premiered the same night at the Stravinsky Festival, June 18, 1970 – and Divertimento from Le Baiser de la Fee a few days later. rg, anyone else remember the overall effect at the time?

A typo, I think? These premiered at the opening night of the 1972 Stravinsky Festival.

Nancy Goldner's book The Stravinsky Festival does list them as premiering on June 18, the first night. Divertimento from Le Baiser de la Fee is listed on the third evening, June 21.

Sorry -- I wasn't clear. The Stravinsky Festival was 1972, not 1970. 1970 was the apparent typo.

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I did not have the great good fortune of seeing the Festival, but I remember mumblings beforehand that Balanchine was a burnt-out has-been and the Festival changed all of that. I'd be curious if that's the sense of others who saw that remarkable opening night.

(In one of these amazing coincidences of history, the Watergate burglary was the night before.)

Lordy -- I'd never put it together, but yes indeed!

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I DO feel a lot of conflict in the action -- esp in the first movement -- though it's not literally war-like

For me the most frightening moment is when the ballerina in palest pink [sunday, Vanessa Zahorian, but I first felt it when Lucia Lacarra did it 10 years ago here; both danced it excellently] makes a perfect circle of the stage doing perfect pique turns while the corps girls rush around her chaotically -- I thought she was giongto collide with somebody, like a planet passing through a chaos of asteroids -- or like a soldier moving through a hail of bullets. [i was sitting in the orchestra, seen horizontally, the screen of corps dancers really looks like ONE of them is gong to hit her, you don't know which; I'm told that from upstairs, it's exciting but does not look dangerous because you can see the trajectories do not intersect.

One critic (sorry, don't remember who, but maybe Croce?) described that passage as resembling the signal on a radar screen, with the white radius moving counter-clockwise and the red dot clockwise. I love that image.

For me, it's easy to take in the war/military references without necessarily making 3 Movements into a programmatic ballet. The sense of danger (ha-ha -- I typed that as "dancer") is pervasive, even in the "cheerful" sections of the outer movements. And the second movement? I'm not sure it alludes to war in any way, but I love that pas.

I love the radar image - it actually rings true because Balanchine certainly found inspiration from such visual phenomena (such as the flashing neon lights that inspired certain hand movements in Apollo).

I thought you all might like this quote from the British dance critic Richard Buckle on 3rd Symphony:

Imagine a world ruled by implacable women. Must they not be under the orders of one particular woman, never seen, never spoken of, even in whispers? She holds sway over all the banks, all the mineral resources, all the airlines and railroads, all the munitions factories and all the funeral parlors in the world. Through her international army of women, she controls the men who think they decide the destiny of nations. But it is Madam who gives the signal for peace or war: the first for sowing the seed, the second for gathering her harvest. In their secret rituals, her female storm troopers are drilled like a high-kicking chorus of lethal drum majorettes. To men they show a sweeter side, to obtain marriage dowries, alimony and widows’ pensions. Madam transports them from one country to another according to her need for reinforcements. ln the first and third movements of the symphony we hear their sealed trains passing, steam trains--for we are in the forties--which shriek when they are about to enter a tunnel.

Behind the battlefront, in no matter what war she has instigated, Madam has her girls waiting. Now, in the second movement, we are in the fifties or sixties, and Westerners are increasingly being sent to battle in Asia; Stravinsky’s music for this is Oriental. lt is the soldier’s weekend out of battle, and he looks for solace in a woman’s arms; though she may be trained in every kind of unfamiliar artifice--as an Indian nautch girl, Japanese geisha or Siamese temple dancer--when he lays his head on her neck she becomes for a moment a symbol of all he loves best--mother, sister, sweetheart, the girl next door. She is expert in gilding his moment of oblivion, a lovely interlude, well worth the money--from which Madam will exact sixty percent.

In the third movement the trains are heard again, the women celebrate their domination, and the surviving men are encouraged to retain their illusions. Life of a kind must go on-for business reasons. The sexes get together to pose for a victory photograph.

And we know what victories lead to.

That is all very well, someone who has seen the ballet may protest, but what about the gay scudding dances of the six principals--of the man who, with jerky jumps, is the first to confront the diagonal of threatening girls, and the man who leads the others in the last movement? What about the jitterbugging? Even if the diagonals and lineups of white-clad girls with ponytails, standing with one foot advanced, stabbing the floor while they rotate their right arms as if pitching a ball, are alarming, don’t the three principal girls smile and look charming in their conspicuous rose pink? What about the lovers in the pas de deux? (lncidentally, the strange nature of their movements was originally dictated by Balanchine’s consideration for injuries Sara Leland and Edward Villella had sustained. One had a bad leg, the other a strained back.) Don’t they behave less as if they were in a brothel than as if they were watching the sun rise from the window of a temple? So my imagined scenario about the terrible women can easily be dismissed as nonsense.

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I thought you all might like this quote from the British dance critic Richard Buckle on 3rd Symphony:

...The sexes get together to pose for a victory photograph.

And we know what victories lead to.

I disagree. I don't see any resolution at the end. The closing pose, with the men aggressively poised to pounce, is more foreboding than anything that came before. Here, perhaps, is the ballet's most direct allusion to violence.

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I don't necessarily see the same military allusions in the work, but your comments on the closing pose reminded me of Deborah Jowitt's response -- like many critics covering the festival she had lots of work to see and very short deadlines -- her initial take on the final pose was like a yearbook photo, but looking at the work again she radically revised her perspective, writing about the level of tension in the overall work. She talks about her shift in one of her anthologies -- cannot remember which one right now.

PNB has both Glass Pieces and Symphony in C in their rep, but haven't put them on the same program so I haven't seen the compare/contrast you set up here. The last time we saw the Stravinsky it was on a program with Forsythe's Artifact II, and I did feel there were several connections between those works, from the stripped down stage space to the aggressive quality of the technique.

Glass Pieces always makes me think of the post-modern experimental choreographers, like Lucinda Childs and Laura Dean, who were working in NYC at the time Robbins made this ballet. The walking grid patterns in the opening sequences and the use of pedestrian movement seem to come from the same place as those contemporary works.

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Marcia B. Siegel kept a diary of her attandence to Stravinsky Festival – I just found my copy of Watching the Crowd Go By – which was sold out and difficult to get press passes to. She characterizes the women in white at the first part of Symphony in Three Movements as being launched in space and "pinned there for a minute in midflight". And like Paul, but a priori, she thinks the piece looks like Robbins works, especially in the "jazzy, athletic look of hip-thrusting walks with the opposite arm pushing out into space."

"Violin Concerto is nicer, but I like it somewhat less," she says, and of Divertimento/Fée: "I feel I'm seeing steps I've never seen before, expecially in Tomasson's low, circling, eccentrically timed leaps." Duo Concertante is a great hit with the audience (many bows) but Monumentum/Movements she feels "is perhaps the greatest musical statement of the week."

***

She holds sway over all the banks, all the mineral resources, all the airlines and railroads, all the munitions factories and all the funeral parlors in the world.

The Buckle review is not only programmatic madness but completely over the top in so many ways, even for the time. The war is now the Vietnam War, the pas is a brothel scene in Asia, the woman is "mother, sister, sweetheart, the girl next door" ... from whom "Madam will exact sixty percent."

This surely must be a Monty Python sketch!

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The music is so violent, foreboding, dangerous, and clearly alludes to war, at least to my ears.

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