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Balanchine’s Choreography to Tchaikovsky


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Quite by accident I came across this dissertation...

Analyzing Music and Dance:
Balanchine’s Choreography to Tchaikovsky and the Choreomusical Score

--Kara Yoo Leaman
2016

[Can be downloaded as a PDF]
https://search.proquest.com/openview/ed1147a7bc01a93ae32c8fd776d02741/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750&diss=y

From the abstract:
"This dissertation analyzes two works that Balanchine set to music by Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky: Tschaikovsk}’ Pas de Deux (1960), set to an interpolation in Swan Lake (1877), and Theme and
Variations (1947), set to the fourth movement of the Third Orchestral Suite (1884). The analyses combine perspectives from traditional music analysis, dance transcription, and
digital video annotation. The methodology takes advantage of Balanchine’s strong musical literacy to examine, first, the musical scores, as he did, and then his
choreographies in relation to the scores. The analyses connect elements of his choreography directly to their probable sources in the music, and they show that
Balanchine was guided by discernible priorities in setting dance to music: that dance and music reflect a partnership rather than dominance by one party; that dancers move with
unreserved energy, reflected in steps that cross musical boundaries or anticipate musical ideas; and that dance establish a strong relationship with its music before it is free to
conflict with it. Balanchine's choreomusical style encompasses many different types of relationships between music and dance, and he achieved what may be described as
musical artistry by a variety of choreographic techniques. The analyses in this study offer a detailed view of important aspects of Balanchine’s multifaceted choreomusical style."

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7 hours ago, pherank said:

Quite by accident I came across this dissertation...

Analyzing Music and Dance:
Balanchine’s Choreography to Tchaikovsky and the Choreomusical Score

--Kara Yoo Leaman
2016

[Can be downloaded as a PDF]
https://search.proquest.com/openview/ed1147a7bc01a93ae32c8fd776d02741/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750&diss=y

Very interesting. She is now on the faculty of the Oberlin Conservatory: https://www.oberlin.edu/kara-leaman

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On 6/7/2020 at 4:21 AM, California said:

Very interesting. She is now on the faculty of the Oberlin Conservatory: https://www.oberlin.edu/kara-leaman

It is by no means an easy dissertation to read, but I'm finding lots of thought provoking bits in the analysis. The Elizabeth Kattner-Ulrich dissertation from a few years back (The Early Life and Works of George Balanchine) was more enjoyable reading, but this one attempts some really difficult analysis. Here are a couple of quotes:

    'A contemporary dance critic called Tschai Pas “a kind of pastiche of a typical
Bolshoi concert-program offering.”34 Jacques D ’Amboise recalls Balanchine calling his
own ballet a circus and “not our company.” Verdy confirms that the ballet “was
[Balanchine’s] little homage to all the Russian dancers also doing those things” at the
time. But, she goes on to say, it was additionally about Imperial Russia (“the Russian
situation”), because “Tchaikovsky, you know, always” evoked memories of that world
for Balanchine.36 With Tchaikovsky’s newly-rediscovered score, Balanchine pays
homage to both the Soviet dancers and the master of the Imperial Ballet, Marius Petipa.
Allusions to Petipa pervade Tschai Pas but are at the same time difficult to isolate,
because the styles o f both Balanchine and Chabukiani emanate from the foundations that
Petipa set in the Imperial Ballet. In contrast, Balanchine’s allusions to the Soviet style are
easier to discern, because they are often inconsistent with his usual aesthetic. One
example is his wholesale adoption in Variation 1 of a modular choreographic form that is
rooted in the musical form.'


     'Known in the repertory as a display piece for virtuosic classical technique, Tschai
Pas is not generally regarded as eccentric. However, the relationship of choreography to
music in Variation 2 is peculiar among classical variations. Instead of following the
music’s form and phrase rhythm, Balanchine responds to and develops musical ideas
through dance, creating choreomusical structures like the five-level complex hemiola,
grouping and displacement dissonances, and a choreographic phrase overlap that preimitates
a musical one. To create dialogue between dance and music, Balanchine opens
the piece with a concentration of cross-modal mappings, which establish agreements, or a
common language, before the conflicts emerge. In an article attributed to him, the
choreographer states, “Not a single fragment of any choreographic score should ever be
replaceable by any other fragment; each piece must be unique in itself, the ‘inevitable’
movement.” The level of coherence that Balanchine aspired to recalls ninteenth- and
twentieth-century ideals for musical compositions and invites the study of his ballets as
musical works.'

Edited by pherank
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On 6/8/2020 at 1:53 PM, pherank said:

 "The methodology takes advantage of Balanchine’s strong musical literacy to examine, first, the musical scores, as he did, and then his
choreographies in relation to the scores. The analyses connect elements of his choreography directly to their probable sources in the music, and they show that
Balanchine was guided by discernible priorities in setting dance to music: that dance and music reflect a partnership rather than dominance by one party; that dancers move with
unreserved energy, reflected in steps that cross musical boundaries or anticipate musical ideas; and that dance establish a strong relationship with its music before it is free to
conflict with it. Balanchine's choreomusical style encompasses many different types of relationships between music and dance, and he achieved what may be described as
musical artistry by a variety of choreographic techniques. The analyses in this study offer a detailed view of important aspects of Balanchine’s multifaceted choreomusical style.

Pherank, when I watch a 'lyrical' segment of a 'classical' ballet such as the White Swan duet from Swan Lake, I sometimes find my hand moving in the air somewhat like an orchestra conductor's hand might, except in a slow, unbroken wave. This reflects what I perceive as the 'lyrical' core of the music. Is there a technical name or concept for this that you know of  ?  The opening few seconds of the White Swan duet, for instance, almost literally illustrate this, when the ballerina slowly descends to the floor and remains there almost motionless.

The rest of the music in a lyrical work seems to be a coloration added to this.

Is there any discussion that you know of, about George Balanchine's use of the music that isn't very technical  ?

I've been quite interested in the recent video with Simone Messmer performing George Balanchine's Concerto Barocco to the music of Bach. He really seems to 'respond' or create  to the music in so many different ways, illustrating the many aspects of the music's composition which are easily noticeable without technical knowledge. Simone Messmer does an exceptional job in interpreting and performing this.

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Buddy
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I just came across something and wanted to quickly mention it as it's an interesting performance that shows the contrast in interpretations between the NYCB's
Ashley Bouder and the Bolshoi's Semyon Chudin dancing the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, which is one of the two subjects of this topic. It can be easily found on the internet. I may want to get back to this at another time.

Also found is this explanation of the music from the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.  

"An eight-minute display of ballet bravura and technique, Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux uses music that the composer belatedly created for Act III of Swan Lake. It was hurriedly composed for Anna Sobeshchanskaya, a Bolshoi prima ballerina who was scheduled to make her debut in the title role at the fourth performance of the 1877 Moscow production, and sought to enrich the part of Odile. Because the music was not in the original score, it was not published with the rest of Swan Lake, and disappeared for more than half a century. When it was discovered in the Bolshoi Theater archives in 1953, Balanchine sought — and was granted — permission to use it for his own choreography."

(The quote is from a poster of a video and may not be authoritative) 
 

Edited by Buddy
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Pherank, from what I can gather from your brief excerpts this is indeed a highly technical analysis. One excerpt does conclude with the intriguing -- "The level of coherence that Balanchine aspired to recalls ninteenth- and twentieth-century ideals for musical compositions and invites the study of his ballets as
musical works.'"

Although this dissertation is probably more suited to dance and music scholars, for me this topic is also an interesting point of departure for looking more generally at George Balanchine's relationship to the music that he used, especially if such a discussion does not already exist at Ballet Alert!

I would again really be glad for any responses to my questions from my first post. These begin with a focus on general ideas about perceiving dance and music, but hopefully have interest here as well.

I continue to try to make the case across various topics at Ballet Alert! that, although George Balanchine "dancers move with unreserved energy"[quote from dissertation], he also created some of the finest 'low energy,' lyrically beautiful dancing in all of ballet. This can be related to the topic here because of his choice of music and his choreographic responses. This is also why I mentioned the comparison between Ashley Bouder and Semyon Chudin in my previous post. 

Edited by Buddy
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17 hours ago, Buddy said:

Is there any discussion that you know of, about George Balanchine's use of the music that isn't very technical  ?

Charles M. Joseph's Stravinsky & Balanchine is more approachable and full of great analysis of the Balanchine/Stravinsky ballets.

Non-technical references to Balanchine's "musicality" are fairly common - most don't happen to be very illuminating though. Elizabeth Kattner-Ulrich's dissertation, The Early Life and Works of George Balanchine (1913-1928), gives background on Balanchine's early choreographic influences. That is available as a PDF online (and it is quite readable).

Lincoln Kirstein's writings did have occasional references to Balanchine's 'musical' approach. I recommend reading Thirty Years of The New York City Ballet. Here's a passage that Kirstein quotes from Slonimsky [Balanchine: The Early Years]:

"Balanchine did not succeed in finishing the Conservatory. But nevertheless… became an accomplished musicianand not only a pianist. He attended classes of harmony, studied counterpoint and composition, wrote music, and most often improvised easily and quickly, as if drawing from innumerable prepared ideas. He wrote compositions for piano and dance, for recitation to music, and for voice…Working in the theater, Balanchine frequently tried his hand at the violin, the French horn, the drums, and the trumpet. And always he mastered the music despite the difficulties of quickly learning any new instrument. Judging from the recollections of ballet artists of the older generation, the compositions of Balanchine were somewhat lacking in originality…It is worth noting that he rarely composed dances to his own music, but most often used the works of composers of the nineteenth century and the beginning of this one…In any case, Balanchine in those years made himself into a professional musician within the ballet theater; this to a large extent determined the character and direction of his creative work in the future." (Slonimsky 1991, 33-34)

Lynn Garafola's article, Arc de Triomphe also touches on 'musicality':

'Of greater critical interest was the American-made Serenade. Here was a ballet that was
"pure dance," and for many it was a revelation. Among them was Rene Jouglet, who reviewed the ballet for
es Nouvelles Litteraires:

"Serenade ... is a masterstroke. From the moment the curtain rises, one is transported and
amazed . .. [by the] motionless ensemble, of incredible purity of line .. . [and] absolute lack
of ornamentation . .. .

"Then the group comes to life ... to flowing, bounding, stirring, soaring life in all its diversity and
multiplicity, the fruit of an architecture continually composed, decomposed, and recomposed, of
thought perpetually the master of wit, ... the whole resting on a classical basis. Suddenly one
perceives that it is unnecessary to resort to inventions more or less preposterous, to arts more or less related,
that the richest and most moving choreography lies [in itself] .... It is a great lesson."

Other critics analyzed the relationship of the choreography and music. "Music offers
the framework," wrote one, "But it would be inexact to say that it acts as the pretext. On the
contrary, music here is the text that dictates to the choreographer his inspiration without the
help of any literature, without the intervention of an argument .... One can easily imagine to
what admirable use he would put a fugue or chorale of Bach.'

That kind of thing doesn't tell me much, however. I personally like to see some real analysis.

I do recommend reading Nancy Goldner's essay on Concerto Barocco in Balanchine Variations (it's a short piece and non-technical).

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Thank you very much, Pherank. This is all quite interesting to me. I'll try to explore it as much as I can.

I guess that I'm more into the effect rather than the methods for accomplishing it. Both points of view seem fine if they add to our appreciation and enjoyment.

I mentioned in my first post the idea of a core of flow in lyrical music that doesn't make itself particularly apparent. I wonder if George Balanchine ever thought much about this as he seemed extremely knowledgeable concerning musical structure and theory according to your sources. It seems more apparent in the classical Swan Lake than in something like Concerto Barocco. I think that Concerto Barocco is perhaps more visually interesting in direct response to the music, whereas Swan Lake is perhaps more poetic and emotional. 


 

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36 minutes ago, Buddy said:

I think that Concerto Barocco is perhaps more visually interesting in direct response to the music, whereas Swan Lake is perhaps more poetic and emotional.

Makes sense given Mr. B's particular approach in Barocco.
Goldner: "In Barocco the pas de deux is breathtakingly beautiful, but unlike almost all other Balanchine duets, it has no romantic overtones. Many observers have noted this special purity, and one reason is that Balanchine wanted to keep his mind on the score. Another reason, I think, for the absence of love feelings in the duet is that he was more interested in the family unit of ten than in the man/woman relationship."

Goldner's essays are the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, Google Books will not display any individual pages of Goldner's Balanchine Variations. So I have to type out a quote from the Concerto Barocco piece so that people can see what the text is like...

"The last section is not as motif-laden. I'd say it's the most exciting musically. This is the "bebop" section, with one group moving in a BE-bop accent while the other counters with be-BOP. The syncopation reaches its acme in another iconic moment: the women hop on pointe while their arms quickly move up and down on consecutive beats. As if this rhythmic teaser were not enough, Balanchine adds frosting by having the group hop into different patterns, like moving panels. These are moments of total joy, compounded by a bit of mathematical mysteriousness. What in hell are the musical cues that tell the dancers when to lower their arms and raise them again?

I have seen my fair share of Baroccos and was never able to figure it out. One day, Merrill Ashley led me into the inner sanctum of the passage and told me on which counts the dancers move. It's so simple I'm embarrassed to pass it on to the reader as if it were classified material, but here it is anyway: one group lowers their arms on count three, and the other on count four. It's not easy to do, however. Just after Merrill revealed the secret code, I took the bus home and practiced my ports de bras en route. So engrossed, and confused, did I become in the project that I missed my bus stop by a mile."

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1 hour ago, pherank said:

Goldner: "In Barocco the pas de deux is breathtakingly beautiful, but unlike almost all other Balanchine duets, it has no romantic overtones. Many observers have noted this special purity, and one reason is that Balanchine wanted to keep his mind on the score. Another reason, I think, for the absence of love feelings in the duet is that he was more interested in the family unit of ten than in the man/woman relationship."

 

Thank you very much once again, Pherank, for taking the trouble to type out these entire paragraphs. And I'll again try to give them as much consideration as I can.  

To cover some other territory involving the importance of the music for a moment, I return, yes, once again, to the Act II Pas de Deux (duet) from George Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream with Allegra Kent and Jacques d'Amboise. As beautiful as the Mendelssohn music is, and I can't imagine the magnificence of the Pas de Deux without it, I'm totally focussed on the human drama and not really on how it literally relates to the music. 

This is a case where the personalities of the dancers completely take over and I don't know how common this is in George Balanchine performances. And I don't see it as necessarily a romance, as Nancy Goldner mentions for most Balanchine duets, but rather an exploration and expression of life's beauty. This is perhaps an example of the performance superseding even this magnificent music and entering into a realm comparable to possibly one of the finest works of visual poetry ever, the White Swan duet from Swan Lake. 

Now back to my wave of lyrical underpinning in the dance/music connection.  😊

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