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"Western Symphony"


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Has anyone seen this Balanchine ballet "Western Symphony"? We are performing two movements of it this year and I was just wondering if anyone knew anything about it? Are there any recordings of it? Also, could anyone clear up what the female characters are? My teacher believes that they are prostitutes but I don't tend to agree.

Another question - I BELIEVE that Hershey Kay arranged the music (the music is credited to him, though I believe he was only an arranger) and if this is the case then what are some of the pieces that the themes come from?

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According to Choreography by George Balanchine, the songs on which Hershey Kay based his arrangement are:

"Red River Valley"

"Old Taylor"

"Rye Whiskey"

"Lolly-Too-Dum"

"Good Night Ladies"

"Oh, Dem Golden Slippers"

"The Girl I Left Behind Me"

In Repertory in Review, Nancy Reynolds writes that there were twelve songs used, and lists all of the above as having been included in the work and "Red River Valley" as "the unifying theme."

Unfortunately, there's no breakdown by movement. Originally there were four movements, but the Scherzo (3rd movement), described by John Martin* as "the least rewarding", was deleted in 1960. According to Choreography by George Balanchine the removal was permanent, but NYCB has reinstated it at least once in a gala, and it was danced in the most recent Miami City Ballet performances. Also, there is a note that the ballet was "initially presented without scenery, in practice clothes."

Critic Clive Barnes* described the participants in the ballet as "cowpunchers and bright-hued dance-hall girls," once Karinska's costumes were added.

*From critics' quotes in Repertory in Review.

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Originally there were four movements, but the Scherzo (3rd movement), described by John Martin* as "the least rewarding", was deleted in 1960. According to Choreography by George Balanchine the removal was permanent, but NYCB has reinstated it at least once in a gala, and it was danced in the most recent Miami City Ballet performances.

At Villella's pre-performance talk before MCB performed it outside of D.C. sometime in the late '90's, he said it was dropped because it was too hard.

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i have a handwritten note in my copy of CHOREOGRAPHY BY BALANCHINE that the 3rd movement of WESTERN SYMPHONY was prepared for revival 1988, for the american music festival w/ Kyra Nichols, and i can't recall what male dancer in the lead (maybe woetzel? my programs are 'filed' on a faraway shelf). i'm not certain when, but it was then deleted again, soon after this. then as noted above it was put back on odd individual occasion(s) thereafter.

i rem. a nichols and balanchine admirer noting in'88 that to her mind this difficult choreography was not worth all the effort it cost nichols at that point in her career, and besides, the observer noted, it was really meant to be the male dancer's showcase. (original cast - p.wilde and a.eglevsky)

additionally, i think it's quite inaccurate, incidentally, to imply as was suggested above that the women in the ballet are meant to be prostitutes. such characterization would seem to come from a balanchine detractor not from a clear-eyed observer. "dance hall girls" might have this meaning to some people but balanchine's history of presenting women dancers in the best light and in the highest regard would contradict this assertion.

if/when he wanted to show prostitutes (i never saw SEVEN DEADLY SINS) i suspect there'd be no need to wonder; we'd know. he'd make it quite clear.) as he might himself have said, they are just dancers, dancing. and karinska's designs are just fanciful ballet recreations of theatrical saloon hall costuming.

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At Villella's pre-performance talk before MCB performed it outside of D.C. sometime in the late '90's, he said it was dropped because it was too hard.

I guess it's a boy's perogative to change his mind, especially now that he has the dancer to do it: Villella revived it, where it was performed by the company on its recent visit to Los Angeles. The movement is described "once a specialty of former New York City Ballet star Edward Villella (Miami's artistic director) and now entrusted to the buoyant Alex Wong." rg noted above the comment that the emphasis was on the man.

i rem. a nichols and balanchine admirer noting in'88 that to her mind this difficult choreography was not worth all the effort it cost nichols at that point in her career, and besides, the observer noted, it was really meant to be the male dancer's showcase. (original cast - p.wilde and a.eglevsky)

The article attributes the staging to Susan Hendl.

Choreography by Balanchine lists a 1958 showing of "Rondo" filmed for Australian television.

i have a handwritten note in my copy of CHOREOGRAPHY BY BALANCHINE that the 3rd movement of WESTERN SYMPHONY was prepared for revival 1988, for the american music festival w/ Kyra Nichols, and i can't recall what male dancer in the lead (maybe woetzel? my programs are 'filed' on a faraway shelf). i'm not certain when, but it was then deleted again, soon after this. then as noted above it was put back on odd individual occasion(s) thereafter.
I missed that performance, but did see it the next year during the Winter 1989 Dancer's Emergency Fund season-closer benefit, with Katrina Killian and Gen Horiuchi.
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I guess I wasn't clear about the performance I saw. MCB did dance the 3rd movement that night, and I remember Villella seemed to speak with understandable pride.

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Right, kfw. The dancers I saw in two different casts of the 3rd movement Scherzo -- and who "could" dance it -- were principal Renato Penteado with soloist Callie Manning, and Alex Wong with Jeanette Delgado, both corps members. I suspect there were others were cast in this part as well, as is usually the case with MCB.

The program says the following: "The third movement scherzo is a particularlyl difficult section of bravura dancing for the man and woman. Unique for its sequence of entrechats six, it demands a pair of dancers with an exceptional ability for the small jumps called batterie. (Edward Villella was one with that ability.)" The program does not mention which of the Kay-adapted folk songs were used for this movement.

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