For many of CBT Fans , the annual Masterpieces of Dance program we perform is the highlight of the dance season.
It’s hardly surprising: George Balanchine is the Beethoven of 20th century ballet, infusing the old forms with new life and energy. George Balanchine, who is regarded as the foremost contemporary choreographer in the world of ballet, came to the United States in late 1933 following an early career throughout Europe. His trip to the United States in 1933 was at the invitation of Lincoln Kirstein, the Boston born dance connoisseur whose dream it was to establish an American school of ballet equivalent to the European schools, as well as an American ballet company. Kirstein had met Balanchine in Paris after seeing a performance by the company that Balanchine was then directing there, Les Ballets 1933; the two were introduced by Romola Nijinsky, widow of the famous Russian dancer, whom Kirstein assisted in her research for a biography of her late husband.
The first result of the Balanchine Kirstein collaboration was The School of American Ballet, founded in early 1934 (the first day of class, in fact, was January 1 of that year) and existing to the present day. It later became the training ground for dancers going into New York City Ballet, which Balanchine and Kirstein were to establish together after 14 more years, in 1948. Balanchine’s first ballet in this country was Serenade, choreographed in 1934 to music by Tchaikovsky, which was premiered outdoors on the estate of a friend near White Plains, New York, as a workshop performance.
Serenade entered the repertory of Charleston Ballet Theatre in 2002. It was the 4th Balanchine work to enter CBT ‘s Repertory. It took the company so long to get it because of the number of ladies needed to do the difficult ballet. This is the fourth time the company has pulled it back out of the repertory.
- Allegro Brilliante 5 couples 1987
- Tarentella 2nd Famous pas for Patricia McBride and Edward Villella, 1988
- Concerto Barocco the first black and white ballet in the neo classic form showcases 10 ladies and 1 man), 1991
Rubies is the latest piece CBT has acquired by the Balanchine . It is the most complex and most difficult. Since it is by Balanchine, the dancers have to produce a lot more speed and musicality than they are accustomed to. Furthermore, its three sections—”Emeralds,” “Rubies,” and “Diamonds”—are in different styles, representing three fixed points in Balanchine’s life and art. “Emeralds” is French. Its music, by Fauré, is French, as was one of its original lead ballerinas, Violette Verdy. Its style is the neoromanticism (enchanted ballrooms, fated encounters) that was popular in Paris when Balanchine was working there, in the twenties and thirties. “Rubies” is about something that came later: Balanchine’s discovery of America, and his alliance with Stravinsky, the composer of the score, in the United States. At its première, it starred two of Balanchine’s most “American” dancers, the radiantly normal Patricia McBride and the Actors Studio-esque Edward Villella. At times, “Rubies” looks like “West Side Story,” only better. As for “Diamonds,” it is Russian, set to Tchaikovsky and choreographed in the style of St. Petersburg’s Imperial Ballet, at whose school Balanchine was trained. In other words, “Diamonds” represents Balanchine’s beginnings. But it is also his end, and his middle. It is classicism, and it was set on Suzanne Farrell, whom Balanchine was in love with when he made “Jewels,” and whom he considered the beginning and end of classical ballet. To use an exalted metaphor, “Emeralds,” so atmospheric, is the Holy Spirit; “Rubies,” so earthly, is the Son; “Diamonds” is God, and, accordingly, some people have regarded it as rather pompous.
Many people are concerned, these days, about the authenticity of different companies’ versions of the Balanchine ballets. That’s good. Let them worry. But the way to be true to Balanchine is not so much to be authentic as to be artistic. The company must like the ballet, for a personal reason (not just because it’s by the famous Balanchine), and work on it according to that idea.
Jewels is unique: a full-length, three-act plotless ballet that uses the music of three very different composers. Balanchine was inspired by the artistry of jewelry designer Claude Arpels, and chose music revealing the essence of each jewel. He explained: “Of course, I have always liked jewels; after all, I am an Oriental, from Georgia in the Caucasus. I like the color of gems, the beauty of stones, and it was wonderful to see how our costume workshop, under Karinska’s direction, came so close to the quality of real stones (which were of course too heavy for the dancers to wear!).”