Tag Archives: Concerto Barocco

Classical Music That Will Rock Your World

 

This WISH playlist doesn’t read like a typical YA playlist, but just like Indigo, the main character, I grew up submerged in classical music – it spoke to my heart. I had a few crushes over the years but Tchaikovsky was my first true love. Indigo listens to this type of music a lot, not just because she needs to know the music she’s dancing to intimately but because the music is achingly beautiful. It may not get any airtime on MTV or go viral on YouTube, but classical music has topped the charts for centuries. Why? Because it rocks. No one knew this better than George Balanchine, founder of New York City Ballet, and one of the world’s most famous choreographers. Balanchine had a true knack for choosing exquisite music for his ballets. Give them a listen. You might just find this music will change your tune.

art by xjaneax

art by xjaneax

Ballet: Serenade

Music: Serenade for Strings in C, Op. 48

Composer: Peter IlyitchTschaikovsky

Premier:

George Balanchine used this music when he choreographed Serenade. The first performance of Serenade was on June 10, 1934, by students of the School of American Ballet, at Felix Warburg’s estate, White Plains, New York.

Serenade is a milestone in the history of dance. It is the first original ballet Balanchine created in America and is one of the signature works of New York City Ballet’s repertory. Balanchine had a special affinity for Tschaikovsky. “In everything that I did to Tschaikovsky’s music,” he told an interviewer, “I sensed his help. It wasn’t real conversation. But when I was working and saw that something was coming of it, I felt that it was Tschaikovsky who had helped me.”

Ballet: Concerto Barocco

Music: Concerto in D minor for Two Violins, B.W.V.

Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

Premier: 1941

Balanchine said of this work: “If the dance designer sees in the development of classical dancing a counterpart in the development of music and has studied them both, he will derive continual inspiration from great scores.” This work began as an exercise by Balanchine for the School of American Ballet. In this ballet the dancers are dressed in practice clothes, probably the first appearance of what has come to be regarded as a signature Balanchine costume for contemporary works. On October 11, 1948, Concerto Barocco was one of three ballets on the program at New York City Ballet’s first performance.

Ballet: Chaconne

Music: Ballet music from the opera Orfeo ed Euridice

Composer: Christoph Willibald Gluck

Premier: 1976

A chaconne is a dance, built on a short phrase in the bass, that was often used by composers of the 17th and 18th centuries to end an opera in a festive mood. This choreography, first performed in the 1963 Hamburg State Opera production of Orfeo ed Euridice, was somewhat altered for presentation as the ballet Chaconne, particularly in the sections for the principal dancers.

This is one of a handful of ballets where the dancers wear their hair down, adding to the ethereal quality of the piece. I was lucky enough to perform this ballet with Pacific Northwest Ballet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City.

Ballet: Square Dance

Music: Concerto Grosso in B minor, Op. 3 no. 10; Concerto Grosso in E major, Op. 3, no. 12 (first movement), Sarabanda, Badinerie e Giga (second and third movements)

Composer(s): Antonio Vivaldi / Arcangelo Corelli

Premier: 1957

In Square Dance, Balanchine joined the traditions of American folk dance with classical ballet. He felt the two types of dance, though widely different in style, had common roots and a similar regard for order. He wrote: “The American style of classical dancing, its supple sharpness and richness of metrical invention, its superb preparation for risks, and its high spirits were some of the things I was trying to show in this ballet.” This ballet is known to be one of the most demanding for the corps, both in the complexity of the steps and the amount of stamina required to perform it.

Ballet: Robert Schumann’s “Davidsbündlertänze”

Music: Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6

Composer: Robert Schumann,

Permier: 1976

Robert Schumann’s “Davidsbündlertänze” was one of Balanchine’s last major works. Against a setting inspired, in part, by the works of the 19th century German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, a series of dances unfolds for four couples. While not literally a biographical narrative, the ballet draws on the life of Schumann, its alternating moods suggesting the episodes of joy and depression that marked the composer’s short career and difficult romance with Clara Wieck. Original dancers were Suzanne Farrell, Kay Mazzo, Heather Watts, Karin von Aroldingen, Jacques d’Amboise, Ib Andersen, Peter Martins and Adam Lüders.

MORE READING:

How to become a professional ballet dancer

World Ballet Day

A day in the life of a professional ballet student

Feast For The Senses Part II:Music That Makes You Move

Music is to dancers as oxygen is to the rest of us; a vital part of existence that we simply can’t do without. It’s the driving force for all dancers and creators of dance. But there’s music and there’s music. I’m thinking more about the type of music that touches us at our very core, elicits a burning, a yearning, a desire to translate what we are hearing into movement.

In short, the music that makes us want to step, sway, shimmy, shake something. Anything.

Because I was trained as a classical ballet dancer, I will always have a soft spot for classical music. Back in the day, Tchaikovsky was my man. The first time I heard the music to Balanchine’s “Serenade” I felt like passing out, it was so beautiful. The ballet is also stunning. ‘Serenade” was the first ballet George Balanchine choreographed in America, (in 1934), the beginning point where he began 50 years of reshaping classical ballet. It was the first of many pieces choreographed to his beloved Tchaikovsky. The ballet is set to the composer’s soaring score “Serenade for Strings in C.” Tchaikovsky called the piece—composed at the same time as the 1812 Overture—”his “favorite child,” written, he said from “inner compulsion…from the heart…I am terribly in love with this Serenade.”

See if you don’t agree after this:

Ah, Concerto Barocco. The ballet I love to hate (ready why here). Putting past associations aside and overcoming any Pavlovian tendencies, Bach’s Concerto in D minor for Two Violins is another piece of music I immediately fell head-over-heels with. In a word, gorgeous.

Concerto Barocco:

But now for something completely different. Balanchine went on to choreograph to a wide variety of music. The ballet Who Cares?, set to music by George Gershwin, is an excellent example. I had the pleasure of performing this ballet while I was a student at the School of American Ballet and I can still hear the music now… Balanchine chose 17 of Gershwin’s Boradway hits for this ballet, first performed at State Theater in 1970. it was at first performed with without décor but from November 1970 with scenery.

Touring Ecuador with Miami City Ballet, Part I.

Quito, Ecuador

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pre-travel pep talk they gave us before we left for Ecuador was full of warnings: don’t brush your teeth with tap water (use bottled), don’t eat any uncooked fruits or vegetables and for God’s sake keep your mouth closed when you take a shower. This was the first visit to a third world country for many of us and the company needed us to stay healthy.

Still, who wouldn’t want an all-expenses-paid trip to Ecuador? That’s what I thought until they informed us that we were going to have to take malaria pills to prepare for our trip to Ecuador. As I gulped down the first pill I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into.

I soon forgot all about it. Nothing beats the excitement of going on tour with your very own shiny, new tour case with your name boldly emblazoned on its pristine surface… it’s the dancer’s equivalent of having your name in lights (off-off-off Broadway, of course).

But Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, located at an altitude of 10,000 feet (far above the sea level we were used to in Miami) presented an entirely new challenge. The simple formula of higher altitude=less oxygen meant trouble – and we were performing Concerto Barocco, one of George Balanchine’s most strenuous and aerobic ballets. Oh yes. During this ballet the corps dancers never once leave the stage.

In the spirit of proactive thinking, oxygen tanks were installed in the wings on either side of the stage. Even though they told us not to worry, knowing that there were oxygen tanks waiting in the wings did little to reassure anyone. Nor was it ever explained how we were supposed to get oxygen if we really did need it. Instead they remained a troubling reminder of all that could go wrong.

Though we all did our best to be careful, many dancers ended up with digestive issues – and all those desperate runs to the bathroom made performing logistically complicated and frequently interrupted rehearsals. Some dancers were forced to sit them out altogether, waiting until the stomach cramps passed.

Concerto Barocco:

The night of our first performance finally arrived… along with heightened anxiety. We did what dancers always do – went through the motions as if it were any other night: warm up, put on makeup and costumes, warm up again backstage, practice tricky moves onstage until final curtain call, breathe, pray.

The music started and so did we. Somehow things always work out once the music starts. Some primal part of the brain takes over and you begin. One count at a time. This move and then the next. The music for Concerto Barocco (J.S. Bach’s Concerto in D minor for Two Violins) is particularly beautiful and inspires full-out dancing with abandon. I’ve always felt like it brings out any dancer’s beauty.

Except.

Halfway through the first movement, the corps dancers move in patterns around the stage, striking bold piqué arabesques as they circle one another. Music mimics movement, reaching to a crescendo with each arabesque. It is our one moment during the ballet to shine, front and center.

A flurry of notes announced my moment had arrived. My feet swept me into my place, front and center. I struck out into my bold arabesque. This was my moment to shine center stage.

The Universe had other plans. In the middle of my bold strike, my supporting foot slipped. Like I had piquéd onto a banana peel. In a split second I ended up on my hands and knees. Front and center.

My shining moment.

The heat of shame and humiliation flooded my body as I quickly picked myself up. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before. I swept back into place and continued dancing, my limbs shaky from shock, willing myself to finish while stifling the urge to cry.

The 2nd movement was my chance to recuperate a little; in this section the corps creates a series of tableaus, each dancer striking a pose and holding it for long periods. I caught my breath enough to calm down completely before the 3rd and final movement, an all-out no-holds-barred aerobic section with no less than a million hops on pointe, jumps and turns. And it’s fast – so fast it’s almost hard to whip your body around quickly enough to keep up.

But keep up we did and finished with a flourish, drenched in sweat to the point that our white leotards were transparent in multiple places. My chest felt cold, so cold. I am sure this was due to oxygen depletion. It was the only time I ever wished the audience would stop clapping, for Pete’s sake.

Immediately after the curtain went down, Edward Villella, our Artistic Director, came backstage to talk to me. He gently reminded me that falling happens, even to the best dancers, which I found heartening. His support meant a lot in that very humbling moment.

I am happy to report that my love for Bach’s Concerto in D minor for Two Violins was not in any way diminished.

A Ballerina’s Love Affair With Pointe Shoes, Part IV. The Agony of Da Feet

 

feet

Conjure up an image of ballerinas spinning effortlessly en pointe and you’re not likely to come up with, say blisters… or corns… or bunions. Yet the two go hand-in-hand like peanut butter and jelly. Regardless of the shape of one’s feet, though, the show must go on and every dancer if eventually faced with the unfortunate and painful prospect of having to dance with bloody toes.

 

There are work-arounds, of course. There have to be. That’s where a dancer’s best friend comes to the rescue: good old Dr. Scholl’s. No, they don’t just make arch supports and sandals that are the equivalent of wooden flip-flops (but comfy!). Many dancers rely heavily on Dr. Scholl’s Blister Treatment, Corn Cushions (and remover), bunion cushions, and Moleskin Padding to protect wounds and sore spots when the going gets tough and the tough must keep going.

 

Every time I put on my pointe shoes, whether for class, rehearsal or performance, there was an elaborate ritual involved (which had nothing to do with the preparation of the pointe shoes… this part was all about the feet). It would be professional suicide to just stick your unprotected feet into a pair of pointe shoes and dance so long and hard that you give the 12 Dancing Princesses a run for their money. Instead, there is a process. What worked well for me was to wrap each toe with medical tape and then use paper towels or gel pads to make the whole experience more comfy. I dealt with the occasional corn (man, those suckers are painful!) by dosing it with remover and by using an oval-shaped corn pad to relieve pressure.

 

I was one of the lucky one who got blisters on very rare occasions… until I moved to Miami to dance with Miami City Ballet.

 

Miami is commonly acknowledged to be a part of the Continental US, but the climate (and the culture) is tropical by nature. It’s warm year-round, which brings tourists and older folks in droves and its monsoon season (typically in July/August) would rival that of Mumbai, India, Bali, Indonesia or anywhere else that gets pelted with driving rains so fierce that even with the windshield wipers on high it would be lunacy to attempt driving.

 

Miami is also humid as h*ll… which means blisters. Lots of them.

 

My time in Miami was the first and only time in my life when I had blisters all the time. The tropical climate kept everything perpetually moist and feet were no exception. Every day brought on new and disgusting terrors and no matter how hard I tried to stay on top of it, I got more and more blisters.

 

I even had blisters on top of my blisters.

 

But the winning moment came one night when we were on tour in Palm Beach. I was putting the final touches on makeup and costuming, attempting to delay the inevitable moment when I’d have to put my bloody toes in pointe shoes and dance my part in Concerto Baroco.

 

For the record, Concerto Barocco is a beautiful Balanchine ballet set to Concerto in D minor for Two Violins, by Johann Sebastian Bach (achingly wonderful music). It is also one of Balanchine’s most taxing ballets for the corps de ballet. During the entire 20 minutes of the ballet, the corps never leaves the stage. The first movement is brisk and uptempo, followed by a second movement that is quite slow where the dancers are forced to hold static lunge positions for many long minutes at a time.

 

But the end of the ballet is a real killer; it is fast-paced, technically demanding, relentlessly aerobic and in its final moments, there are a million soutenu turns from side to side and endless hops on pointe.

 

In essence, it might be the worst possible ballet to perform with a nasty collection of gaping blisters.

 

When life passes us incredibly painful moments, sometimes there’s no choice but to belly up to the bar(re). Which is what I did. After painstakingly cutting out moleskin pads that were perfectly-sized for each and every blister, I wrapped every toe carefully, cushioned the whole mess with padding and said a silent prayer before heading backstage to psyche myself into the proper mindset to get through the performance.

 

First I tried some pique arabesques. Those were tolerable. If you’re comfortable with the feeling of having your foot pierced by a red-hot poker. The soutenu turns stepped things up a few notches. The hops on pointe were worse than natural childbirth (I know from personal experience) so I stopped doing them. After that I stayed off pointe and kept my muscles warm until the final moment of reckoning arrived.

A taste of Concerto Barocco:


 

But when the music started, it transported me away from my worldly troubles… at least for the first two movements. Some music is inspiring enough that it can do that, force us to forget the things we’d rather forget and let our bodies simply respond to the exquisite sound of a musical masterpiece. Add the theatrical elements of bright light, a company of fellow dancers and an enrapt audience and the pain disappears… almost.

 

Except for the third movement and those bloody (literally) hops on pointe where I could feel the raw meat of my wounded flesh grinding against the concrete confines that were the boxes of my shoes… well, that was special.

 

Final bows were one of the hugest reliefs I’ve ever experienced. I walked off stage- okay, no- I hobbled. When I looked down I noticed blood had seeped through everything, including the pink satin exteriors of my shoes. Now that was serious.

 

Such is a day in the life of a dancer.