Tag Archives: George Balanchine

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

Why School of American Ballet Summer Intensives Are Important

As the final week of SAB’s Summer Intensive approaches, every dancer wonders the same thing: will I be asked to stay on as a permanent student? While it’s an incredible experience spending the summer in New York City while studying with the top ballet faculty in the country, the invitation to stay on is what really matters. This marks a dancer as having enough promise to have a ballet career, perhaps one day with New York City Ballet.

SAB states that Peter Martins, Chairman of Faculty at SAB and Ballet Master in Chief of New York City Ballet, observes every student in class. Mr. Martins and the faculty assess each summer student’s interest and technical accomplishment but only a select few are asked to stay on. Many students attend two or three SAB summers before they’re ready for the Winter Term.

I was asked to stay on for Winter Term after my second summer at SAB. At that time George Balanchine was still alive and running New York City Ballet, but he rarely came to the school (and never during the Summer Intensive). Instead, Antonina Tumkovsky (one of the most influential teachers at SAB, who taught there from 1949-2003) conducted student evaluations, with help from Nathalie Gleboff (the School’s Executive Director). Although I understood nothing that was said the day my class was evaluated, it was nerve-wracking (and obvious) when I was being discussed. Days later, when my ballet teacher gave me the good news that I had been asked to stay, my life was irrevocably changed: I was going to study full-time at the top ballet school in the country, leave my family behind, and move to New York City on my own.

I was fourteen years old.

As crazy as this sounds, it’s a common scenario for young dancers, although I left home earlier than most. Since ballet dancers begin dancing professionally in their late teens, training has to happen even earlier.

Next week is the final week of SAB’s Summer Intensive, and my thoughts are with all of the hopeful, young dancers who have traveled so far and worked hard to follow their dreams. This may be one of the most stressful weeks they’ve ever had, but I hope they remember to soak it all in, enjoy the magic of New York, and learn everything they can.

What A Summer Intensive at the School of American Ballet Feels Like

While every day at the School of American Ballet held all the promise of my ballet future, I often felt one step behind, unsure of where I stood or whether I was even noticed. There were some days when the white walls of the studio felt like they were closing in on me. Other days it felt cavernous, full of so many other people I felt like I might be swallowed up. Every day I tried as hard as I could to be perfect.

Regardless of the cloud of uncertainty constantly hanging over my head, I loved ballet and performing and I had been dreaming of attending the School of American Ballet for years.

So I continued taking the overly-refrigerated train every day with a clump of men in suits, and riding the bus (no air-conditioning) to and from SAB in temperatures that hovered over one hundred degrees, and I did everything my teachers asked. I was lucky to have the ability to learn choreography quickly, which differentiated me from some of the others, because I always knew what the next step was.

The teaching style at the School of American Ballet was very different from what I was used to: we were shown each exercise (either an actual demonstration by the teacher or told verbally with a series of hand gestures to illustrate) and we repeated what was given. Days and weeks passed this way, usually with no comments from teachers.

We had technique class every morning, variations en pointe two afternoons per week, and character class. I hadn’t been dancing en pointe for long, but my feet were already giving me problems. The bunions on the joints of my big toes continued to grow and every class was excruciating—it felt like being stabbed with skewers or hot daggers. Some days I was close to tears. Most days I surreptitiously took off my shoes for a split second while the other group of dancers were in the center… a few blessed moments to relieve the pressure was the only way to get through each class.

One class at a time. One day at a time. That was the only way to keep moving ahead and I was determined to do exactly that.

 

The School of American Ballet Summer Intensive: Week 2

There was a lot to figure out in the early days of my first Summer Intensive at the School of American Ballet. Once I had figured out how to navigate my way through the Metro North train system and the busses of New York City there was a whole other system to figure out: the hierarchy of faculty and students. The faculty was different from what I was used to: not only were they difficult to understand (many of them were hand-picked from Russia by George Balanchine and spoke with heavy accents), they were impossible to decipher—but every comment and correction from them was like a precious nugget of gold (to be later analyzed in private from every possible angle) because you were good enough to be worth their time . The other dancers were easier to figure out because they were all intent on the same goal: being asked to stay on at the end of the summer as a permanent student.

Each class I sweated profusely (both literally and figuratively), watching my technique (in the mirror) and the instructors (out of the corner of my eye). It soon became apparent that once we finished barre exercises and moved on to the center of the floor, dancers were placed in rows according to rank—the further front you were placed, the more in favor you were.

I wasn’t used to being in such a competitive arena. While most of the other girls were nice, some went out of their way to be catty. More than once I had to defend myself from snide remarks from a girl from New Jersey who decorated her bun with a ribbon tied in a big bow that exactly matched the color of her leotard. She was annoying, but I found her whole color coordination thing even more ridiculous and more than once I wanted to tell her to where to stuff New Jersey.

In the end I decided to focus on being my best and tuning out the rest—it was just noise. Knowing that everyone else was there for the same reason I was made me work harder than I ever had before.

More from today’s dancers at the School of American Ballet: