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The Unanswered Question

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According to Balanchine's Complete Stories of the Great Ballets", "The Unanswered Question" was, at different times, the 3rd and the 2nd pieces of "Ivesiana".

Other music by Ives that has been used in Ivesiana includes "Hallowe'en", which was originally the second of the danced pieces; "Over the Pavements", originally the fourth (after "The Unanswered Question"); "Arguments", which replaced "Hallowe'en" in 1955; and "Barn Dance", which in 1956 replaced "Arguments".

Complete Stories lists the 4 sections as "Central Park in the Dark", "The Unanswered Question", "In the Inn", and "In the Night".

Balanchine explains,

Ive's music is most interesting to me for its rhythms. The choreographer has little music that can twist him out of his habitual methods of design, but I found in Ives's work the shock necessary for a new point of view. Since the ballet was first done, I have revised it several times, adding a new piece I have discovered, omitting another. The music I find hard not to work with. In homage to the composer, we called the ballet Ivesiana.

Repertory in Review mentions a second revival in 1975 (the first was in 1971). The ballet premiered on September 14, 1954 with all 6 sections -- if I'm understanding Nancy Reynolds correctly.

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Sonora, BalletTalk members have posted reviews from the Spring, 2004 season. You can seek out weekly threads for that season in the NYCB forum or do a search in that forum for Ivesiana.

Thanks, Marga, for the history. It would be interesting to see what was discarded for the sections we have now. Maybe another undertaking for the Balanchine Foundation?

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Thanks, carbro. I, for one, would love to see any and all discarded Balanchine choreography.

Sonora, here's a thread from the NYCB spring season of 2004 which contains a few lengthy reviews of "Ivesiana". (Thanks again, carbro!) I cued the thread to the first post that reviews the ballet. Continue scrolling through the posts from there. I didn't check any other threads for more reviews. You might find the time to do so. I'm going to bed. :) Thanks for bringing up "Ivesiana"! I thoroughly enjoyed the research I did. I'll never forget Allegra Kent's account (in her autobiography Once a Dancer) of learning "The Unanswered Question".

Ivesiana thread May 2004

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Thanks for reviving the topic of this ballet. I have vague memories of performances in the early 60s -- mainly of my reactions to things I'd never seen or experienced before.

I remember being completely shocked to learn that the music was, at that time, already over 50 years old.

It was strange music (it seemed then), simultaneously modern and antique, with almost no beat -- quite different from the Stravinsky which was the music Balanchine seemed to use most. The dancers in Ivesiana themselves often semed to be providing a visual beat, entirely through their movements, to something I could not hear.

The story element in Central Park made it more accessible than the other parts. The most stunning effect, and one I'd never even dreamed of before, was the way the men supported and manipulated Allegra Kent through the air, in Unanswered Question. I was reminded of this only last season when watching a revival of Ben Stevenson's Five Poems (to Wagner's music). He uses the same devise, but with quite a different "story" and e effect.

I'd love to hear the performance memories of others who may have seen Ivesiana, especially first impressions. I would aimagine that those who say it in the 60s (or even in the 50s) would have experienced it quite differently from those whose first exposure was more recently..

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"The Unanswered Question" is also the name of a visually stunning ballet by Eliot Feld to the same Ives music. It premiered some years ago at NYCB as part of The Diamond Project. I saw it couple of times and loved it. It was scheduled to be revived earlier this month. I don't remember a review of the revival. Anyone see it?

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Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question: was Balanchine's ballet to the music called Ivesiana? When was the last time NYCB performed it? I don't have a good reference.

Thank you!

I believe that IVESIANA was also performed during the 1993 Balanchine Festival. It was the first time I saw it, and the performance consisted of the four pieces Marga refers to:

Complete Stories lists the 4 sections as "Central Park in the Dark", "The Unanswered Question", "In the Inn", and "In the Night".
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I'm fascinated about what Balanchine found in Ives, also in what Martins has. Ives is one of the few composers I have ever enjoyed only performing--and I only was interested in the Concord Sonata. Alan Mandel plays it perhaps better than anyone else who's recorded it (Herbert Hencke's is also good), but I generally don't like to hear Ives--I've seen 'Calcium Light Night' and think I'd rather see a Balanchine or Martins ballet to it than just hear it, though I'd rather hear Boulez, Copland, Bernstein, almost anybody. Ives idolized Bach and Beethoven, made many disparaging remarks about Debussy, Chopin and Mozart. The 'Essays Before a Sonata' give you an idea of Ives's philosophy and puritan consciousness, things like comparing the old Alcott house favourably to an Etruscan villa--the opposite of Balanchine's Lehar/Beethoven quip, except that Balanchine's is witty and idiosyncratic, and Ives's is resentful-oppressive and idiosyncratic. Even to play it was only pleasurable to me when I could get some time for it in the Steinway basement, so that what seem ugly sounds are made beautiful by a magnificent instrument. I can't imagine Ives respected ballet, so it's interesting to see that he's been made important use of therein. All those Increase Mather tones are so far from Petipa. Speaking as a musician, I'd take Petipa over Ives any day, as he is more interesting, less boring.

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