Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×


Recommended Posts

the attached scans of "Ringling Bros - Barnum & Bailey CIRCUS MAGAZINE 1942" date from the season Balanchine and Stravinsky collaborated on their Ballet of the Elephants, first given on April 9, 1942 in NYC's Madison Square Garden.

the artwork throughout this 72 p. magazine is by Peter Arno who conjured the elephant pas de deux image for the cover in anticipation of Balanchine's arrangement of elephants to Stravinsky's Circus Polka.

i'd not previously seen this souvenir of a ballet that didn't last very long.

likewise, i'm unfamiliar with the idea of circus acts being known as Displays.

No mention here of Vera Zorina, who, according to CHOREOGAPHY BY BALANCHINE "rode at the head of the troupe in a specially choreographed addition to the circus routine."

No mention either of the Circus Polka title under Stravinsky's portrait, perhaps because the name came late in the game.

post-848-028969300 1279224057_thumb.jpg

post-848-092418800 1279224070_thumb.jpg

post-848-095492300 1279226743_thumb.jpg

Link to comment

No mention here of Vera Zorina, who, according to CHOREOGAPHY BY BALANCHINE "rode at the head of the troupe in a specially choreographed addition to the circus routine."

There's a pic. of Zorina in her autobiography of the same name-(which I read recently)-showing her smiling while laying on top of the elephant's trunk. Very cute indeed. :wink:

Link to comment

thanks, C. yes there are a number of places to see Zorina as part of this 'ballet' even if her name was not, as of the printing of this mag, yet associated with the production. i suspect if her presence was planned she'd have been named as she was a Hollywood name.

interestingly on another page of the mag, Display No. 3 is entitled ZARINA and is described as "Equestrian Achievement Extraordinary -- 'The Postillon'." [Arno's illus. shows a dark-haired woman guiding three horses from a standing position by holding their collective reins in her two hands.]

Link to comment

yes, PORTRAIT OF MR. B has a UPI foto (plate 75) of Balanchine w/ Modoc, one of the performing elephants, gotten up in this instance w/ a panache headdress, a dangle earring and what looks like a voluminously gathered tutu skirt. the captured moment shows the choreographer raisng one artfully arranged hand opposite Modoc's similarly raised foreleg, with straw from the big top's turf clinging to big foot's underside.

Link to comment

text from the CIRCUS magazine's article about the show's individual "displays"


An idea picked up by John Ringling North in the Budapest of pre-Axis days furnishes one of he show's high spots, the "Ballet of the Elephants".

The master showman called on a corps of aides, each skilled in his particular field, to develop the pachydermic problem into an incomparable novelty.

Its direction, including the special training of the fifty beautiful and talented girl participants, was placed in the hands of George Balanchine, famous for his ballet creations on stage and screen.

Music was composed by the world renowned Igor Stravinsky. Norman Bel Geddes designed the costumes for this outstanding production and John Murray Anderson staged it. Walter McClain, Ringling superintendent of elephants, collaborating with Balanchine, taught the huge animals their special routines.


Link to comment

From some Air Force time spent in upcountry Thailand, I do have some experience around elephants. Both Balanchine and the pachyderm seem to be having a good time, and that's a good thing! As one of my Thai friends observed, "Being cheerful around elephants makes THEM cheerful!" I recall some article naming one of the "ballerinas" "Bessie". Maybe Modoc was Balanchine's lead, but Bessie was his girlfriend?!

Link to comment

I recall some article naming one of the "ballerinas" "Bessie". Maybe Modoc was Balanchine's lead, but Bessie was his girlfriend?!

"The Circus Polka premiered at Madison Square Garden in the spring of 1942, performed by the Ringling Circus Band and starring, according to the pro­gram, "Fifty Elephants and Fifty Beautiful Girls in an Original Choreographic Tour de Force, Featuring Modoc, premiere ballerina." Modoc, of course, was an elephant, and the New York Times reported that "Modoc the Elephant danced with amazing grace, and in time to the tune, closing in perfect cadence with the crashing finale." Although contemporary accounts claim the other elephants were not quite as adept at following Stravinsky’s rhythmic quirks, the act was a success and ran for 425 performances.

Stravinsky later adapted the work for full orchestra and premiered that version with the Boston Symphony in 1944. At least one of the corps de ballet -- or her keeper -- remembered her earlier experience with the polka, as Stravinsky writes:

"After conducting my orchestral original on radio from Boston in 1944, I received a congratulatory telegram from Bessie, a young pachyderm who had carried a ballerina and who had heard that broadcast in the winter headquarters of the Circus in Sarasota. I never saw the circus ballet, but I met Bessie in Los Angeles once and shook her foot."


Link to comment

... Featuring Modoc, premiere ballerina."

I hate to be pedantic, but in the interest of fairness to Modoc, here is the full reference

... featuring MODOC, premiere ballerina, the Corps de Ballet, and the Corps des Elephants.

This suggests that MODOC and the "premiere ballerina" (unspecified by name, I assume because Zorina would not be performing in all shows) were different performers. Modoc, it seems, was what might be called the "premier danseur." :smilie_mondieu:

Link to comment

In 2006, my picture book about the ballet was published by Roaring Brook Press (wonderful illustrations by Robert Andrew Parker). Called BALLET OF THE ELEPHANTS, it's the completely true story, with photos included. The NYTimes reviewed it (Jed Perl, reviewer) that May. I hope some of you might consider taking a look at it to see what you think. I did extensive research to get the details right--

Leda Schubert

www.ledaschubert.com (for more detail)

Link to comment

I loved the part:

The question children have asked me most frequently is: "How did they get the tutus on the elephants?"

The trainers or bullmen apparently snapped them on. I know this because Rita Williams-Garcia, brilliant writer and MFA faculty person, told me. She was once going to dance with elephants herself.

I am intrigued by "The Princess of Borscht", too.

Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...