A perfect pas de deux

A perfect pas de deux

A new festival celebrating Balanchine and Tchaikovsky opened in New York this week.

Published: January 16, 2013 (Issue # 1742)


Ashley Bouder (r) and Jonathan Stafford performing Balanchine’s ‘Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.’

For those who haven’t overdosed on sugar plum fairies and nutcracker princes during the recent holidays, the New York City Ballet unveiled a month-long festival Tuesday dedicated to the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky as interpreted by the iconic choreographer George Balanchine and others.

Running through Feb. 24, the Celebrating Tchaikovsky festival presents some of Balanchine’s best-loved work as well as including both the first and last ballets he choreographed while in the U.S. It also offers a rare chance to see all nine of the Balanchine ballets currently in the New York City Ballet’s active repertory that were created to the music of Tchaikovsky.

A native of St. Petersburg, Balanchine emigrated to America in 1933 after a stint as Diaghilev’s choreographer for the Ballets Russes in Paris. Once in New York he quickly set about establishing a dance academy and eventually co-founded the New York City Ballet.

Within a year of his arrival, Balanchine had premiered “Serenades” set to Tchaikovsky’s transcendent “Serenade for Strings in C” — a signature work for the New York City Ballet since its inception and the current festival’s opener. In it the choreographer concentrates 300 years of classical dance vocabulary into a modern masterpiece that places human movement at the center of a performative universe freed of narrative.

Balanchine’s relationship with Tchaikovsky’s music began while he was a dancer at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg. Having cut his teeth on Marius Petipa’s choreography, Balanchine went on to create a version of “The Nutcracker” for his new homeland that has become a beloved and time-honored classic. During the course of his career Balanchine choreographed some 40 ballets inspired by the theatricality of Tchaikovsky’s music, calling it “music to make everyone weep.”

Perhaps most surprising for audiences used to more classical interpretations is the choreographer’s one-act compression of “Swan Lake” that today features an entire flock of black swans. Jettisoning the original plot, Balanchine combined music from the first and fourth acts of the ballet and added a duet from Tchaikovsky’s opera “Ondine” for good measure. The result is an extremely modern reflection on the original that foregrounds the emotive qualities of the music.

In addition to “Serenade” the company will also perform Balanchine’s “Mozartiana” and “Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2” on the same program, and “Swan Lake,” “Allegro Brillante” and “Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3” on another. The final Balanchine program will feature the “Diamonds” segment from “Jewels,” “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux” and “Divertimento from ‘Le Baiser de la Fée,’” which was composed by Stravinsky as a homage to the music of Tchaikovsky.

The final program also includes “Bal de Couture,” a new work by Peter Martins set to selections from “Eugene Onegin.” Martins’ acclaimed production of Tchaikovsky’s “The Sleeping Beauty” closes both the Celebrating Tchaikovsky festival and the 2013 winter season.

Celebrating Tchaikovsky runs through Feb. 24 at the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center. For more information, visit www.nycballet.com

Leave a comment