STAGE TUBE: BALANCHINE BALLET Anniversaries - January 17
January 17 marks the anniversary of two famous George Balanchine ballets, Stars and Stripes and A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Stars and Stripes is a ballet set to the music of John Phillip Sousa. Sounds corny? Depending on what you think, it very well might be. Sure, there are high kicks, salutes, batons and the unfurling of the American flag in the finale. Already some people are wincing. But John Martin noted in his first review of the work in 1958 that there are "lifts that would make the Bolshoi Ballet's mouths water." Hershy Kay orchestrated and re-arranged such Sousa pieces as Liberty Bell, El Capitan, Corcoran Cadets and, of course, Stars and Stripes. It all adds up to wonderful entertainment and 55 years later it is still in the company's repertoire. So Balanchine must have done something right!
A Midsummer Night's Dream is set to the music of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. Yes, Bartholdy. This is the name the family took when they converted from Judaism to Lutheranism. And that's how he's known, at least most of the time. If you don't believe me look him up in the encyclopedia.
In this ballet Balanchine not only used the familiar Overture and incidental music but also the Athalie Overture, the Fair Melusine, The First Walpurgisnacht Night, Symphony no. 9 for Strings and other less well known Mendelssohn works. The ballet is, as the King sings in The King and I, a puzzlement. Act I depicts the story in mime and dance, but Act II virtually dispenses with the story and concentrates on pure dance. When it first premiered in 1962 it was not exactly greeted with encomiums. But audiences did not seem to care. It has remained one of the company's most popular ballets and I almost dare anyone not to go and come out smiling, especially after watching Puck ascending to the heavens in the finale.
As with all of Balanchine's ballets the music is of the utmost importance. The choreography fits the music. Without this proper fit there would not be a ballet. The music leads and speaks, steps follow, not vice-versa.
Watch some of these clips and next time City Ballet presents these works go to the Koch Theatre and see for yourself what they're all about. You can also go to Amazon and purchase two excellent productions of Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Whatever you do I am sure you will be delighted. Such pleasure is rare these days.
More On: George Balanchine, John Martin, Hershy Kay, Felix Mendelssohn.