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What Is Quintessential Balanchine?


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In a thread on Forsythe, Natalia wrote:

Balanchine was a prolific choreographer, with works ranging from the Serenades down to the PAMTGGs. I don't consider the PAMTGGs as definitive Balanchines. Would anybody who is asked to name five quintessential Balanchine works include PAMTGG or Variations Pour Une Porte et Un Soupir on their lists? Would they even call La Valse , Apollo, or Prodigal Son 'quintessential Balanchine'? I think not. Rather, people will list Serenade, Agon, Concerto Barocco, Theme & Variations, Symphony in C, Ballet Imperial, Four TTs, etc....works that can truly be called successors to Petipa due to their large-scale, heirarchical compositions, utilizing all levels of a corps de ballet and soloists.

http://ballettalk.invisionzone.com/index.p...ip=66.153.17.34

I think that Apollo belongs on this list for the development of its central character and its conclusive series of value judgements about what is essential to ballet -- classicism vs. expressionism, music topping the hierarchy for dance -- that can not only be seen as a "in the now" response to his artistic environment with Diaghilev, but that are timeless. More than a Bildungsroman, the character development in Apollo shows a focus of purpose through mentoring, exploration, and choice, and it is done entirely through movement. I don't think that every quintessential Balanchine ballet must be large-scale, with full corps.

Agon is at the top of my list, showing the essence of music through movement, in which both are full partners.

Of the tutu ballets (or formerly tutu ballets), I would choose Symphony in C because of the richness and depth of all four movements, from the last apprentice to the principals. A first alternate in this category would be Divertimento No. 15.

I would add one of the ballets that were intended to be popular, since Balanchine concidered that not only a mission, but also the responsibility of a choreographer to show range. I'm having a hard time choosing between Stars and Stripes and Vienna Waltzes, even if Union Jack is my favorite of the genre.

The last I'm going to have to think about longer, because I'm trying to distinguish between favorites and what represents the quintessential Balanchine. I'm tending to lean towards Concerto Barocco, but wondering if I need to choose something more directly related to Petipa, like Theme and Variations.

What do you think are the five quintessential Balanchine works and why?

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Mine would be:

Serenade

Symphony in C

Tchaikovsky pas de deux

Theme and Variations

4 T's

Why? I don't know. It's some kind of emotional connection. But these spell out Balanchine for me. Of course I could probably easily add another five !

Richard

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If "quintessential" means the purest or most typical form of something, then this question is unanswerable. As I said in response to Natalia on the other thread, the recent revival of Balanchine's Don Quixote demonstrated that lists of "definitive" or "quintessential" Balanchine ballets are bound to leave out somethng important. IMO, what this thread will result in are lists of one's FAVORITE Balanchine ballets. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

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Helene, what about Western Symphony as the "popular" ballet?

I don't think it's as strong as the others, particularly in the corps work, until the very end of the ballet.

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Well, this is like desert island discs -- impossible, and fun....

Helene I agree with you that apollo belongs in the 5 -- and I'd also say that ballet Imperial does NOT.

Curious, I'm kinda swayed by Marie-Jeanne's opinion, which is that BI is "not a great ballet" -- similarly, dancers I admire say that T&V is not a great ballet, and I AM inclined to think they're right-- not till you get to the pas de deux, and from then on it does sweep me up -- in Particular, there's a moment where it takes off -- finally -- as he carries her backwards beating to the descending part of the melody.

Western is my favorite of the "popular" ballets, Tanny's role is SO funny, it transcends everything.

My list -- if it has to be five -- would be Serenade, Apollo, Barocco, Bizet, and 4 T's tied with Agon. I actually prefer 4 T's, which is semi-dancer-proof -- but a great Agon is a greater thing than a great 4 T's. Miss Congeniality is Western.

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IMO, what this thread will result in are lists of one's FAVORITE Balanchine ballets. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I agree, Farrell Fan -- and it's a tribute to the great banquet of Balanchine's work that there are so many to choose from.

I can think of about 15 that are in my top five (favorites) -- and even that list changes depending on mood, what I've seen last, and what I miss most. And I do miss Liebeslieder Waltzer. And Firebird.

Of those mentioned so far, Miami City Ballet is presenting Seranade, Symphony in C, and Western Symphony this coming season, among others. :wink:

And finally I get to see a Prodigal Son presided over by Edward Villella. (Surely Prodigal Son, which which tells its story so brilliantly using action that is never excessive or superfluous, minimal but powerful gesture, and unforgettable visual images, all of it perfectly pitched to the score, is "quintessentially Balanchine," when compared with almost every other narrative ballet.)

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Curious, I'm kinda swayed by Marie-Jeanne's opinion, which is that BI is "not a great ballet" -- similarly, dancers I admire say that T&V is not a great ballet, and I AM inclined to think they're right-- not till you get to the pas de deux, and from then on it does sweep me up -- in Particular, there's a moment where it takes off -- finally -- as he carries her backwards beating to the descending part of the melody.

I think that wonderful sweeping moments in the beats is one instance of Balanchine's genius in choreographing the Big Melody. The second is in the last movement of Serenade, where the melody is performed by the two groups of corps, and each man partners the corps woman on one side to the beautiful sweeping melody, and she ends in a quiet, resolved fifth position at the end of the phrase, while he goes on to partner the woman on his other side. The third is in Pas de Dix and Cortege (and maybe Raymonda Variations?), where the beautiful adagio is performed by corps couples, not by the principals.

Where Theme first grabs me is the section where the female corps dances to the theme with the trembling strings and then form a line downstage, and the principal woman is supported in a series of developes by two corps women, as if the Swans partnered Odette in the White Swan pas de Deux instead of Siegfried.

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Oh yes, Helene, in that version I've seen with Gelsey Kirkland, that section for the ballerina and her court is ravishing....

Bart, how I envy you getting to see a Prodigal presided over by Villella.

and i love the idea of there being 15 of his ballets in your top 5 -- that's REALLY good.....

But something in the way you said "story ballet" made me think of his Nutcracker, which IMO is one of his greatest works, ESPECIALLY the first act -- I have been very ready to believe that his Don Q is a great ballet because I've always thuought that his handling of the story in Nutcracker is consummate storytelling, so vivid, so poignant, so economical -- the symbols are all fully accounted for realistically, his additions (like the bed, or Marie's crown) are all motivated in a completely natural way when they first appear, but transformed exponentially (like the tree) when the time comes for them to take on their full meaning....

By contrast in Prodigal, there are certainly things (like the fence, and the Siren's cloak) that get transformed ingeniously, and the ingenuity is stunning, but it's not really awesome like cutting the crown off the mouse king and putting it on Marie's head, which just totally takes my breath away, or the way the bed sails out the window into the night and takes you to the other world......

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