Balanchine's 5 November Premieres

Balanchine's 5 November Premieres

Autumn was a very productive season for the choreographer George Balanchine: in November alone, several of his productions premiered.

Symphonia Concertante: a stage competition to the music by Mozart

The audience saw this one-act ballet for the first time on November 5, 1945. It happened at Carnegie Hall in New York. Mozart’s works served as the musical material for it. Initially, George Balanchine called this production "Adventure in Ballet". The action in the performance was structured as a competition between two soloists: one ballerina danced to the sounds of a violin, the other - of a viola. Students of the School of American Ballet danced in the premiere performance. 

Two years later, Balanchine showed this production again. Now, Maria Tallchief and Tanaquil Le Clercq, who was the choreographer’s  fourth wife, danced the lead parts. 

The Four Temperaments: the calling card of the New York City Ballet

A year later, New Yorkers got a chance to see a new stage brainchild of George Balanchine: The Four Temperaments production premiered on November 20, 1946, at the Central High School of Needle Trades. The choreographer wrote about this production to the music by Paul Hindemith in his book 101 Stories of the Great Ballets:

“Ballet is an expression in dance and music of four different temperaments: melancholic, sanguinic, phlegmatic and choleric. Each of us has the characteristics of all four. It all depends on which one dominates."

The performance consisted of five parts: the theme and four variations. Three pairs performed three pas de deux, each musical and choreographic presentation was dominated by its own mood. For example, in the Phlegmatic variation, the soloist began to dance alone; in the Sanguinic variation, the pair waltzed, actively gesticulating; and in the Choleric variation, all the artists appeared on the stage at once. 

Over time, The Four Temperaments ballet became an iconic production for the American school, one of the most famous performances by the New York City Ballet dancers. 

Theme and Variations: a “beautiful time” in ballet

Two years later, on November 26, 1947, the ballet Theme and Variations premiered at the City Center of Music and Drama in New York. The choreographer's production was inspired by the final part of Tchaikovsky's Suite No. 3. The New York debut of this performance was not absolute - two months earlier, in September 1947, they showed it in Richmond - but this time, it was definitely large-scale. The main parts in the performance were danced by the ABT (American Ballet Theater) stars Alicia Alonso and Igor Youskevitch. As Balanchine later recalled, his task was "to awaken that beautiful time in classical dance, when Russian ballet flourished thanks to the music by Tchaikovsky." 

The production was plotless: the variations of the soloists were interspersed with the corps de ballet dances; a lyrical pair adagio and a ballerina's solo dance made the culmination. All the 26 artists involved in the production danced the final polonaise.  

The Firebird: several versions of the ballet long-liver

A couple of years later, the choreographer returned to the City Center of Music and Drama with another premiere that took place in the fall again. On November 27, 1949, the audience saw George Balanchine's Firebird to the music by Igor Stravinsky for the first time. The costumes for the dancers were designed by Marc Chagall, and the ballerina Maria Tallchief appeared on stage as the Firebird. It was this role that brought her the status of a prima ballerina, as well as general recognition. 

This ballet was significant for Balanchine himself too: he personally helped Fyodor Lopukhov and Mikhail Fokine stage their productions and watched The Firebird from the audience hall many times. Later, the American version of the performance became a long-liver staying in the repertoire until 1965. In 1970, Balanchine resumed the production with new costumes and sets. Ten years later, The Firebird returned again: this time, the choreographer made the 1970 version as close as possible to the very first premiere of 1949. 

Scotch Symphony: plotless romanticism

On November 11, 1952, George Balanchine offered the public a symphony ballet again. He staged the one-act performance Scotch Symphony for the New York City Ballet. A work by Felix Mendelssohn, written according to the canons of romanticism, served as the musical accompaniment. 

Balanchine's ballet consisted of three parts. The action began with the corps de ballet: the artists took the stage in Scottish costumes. The second part featured an adagio inspired by the romantic ballet performances, in particular La Sylphide. In the finale, the corps de ballet appeared again. In between the parts, the soloists danced the pas de deux. 

The production had no plot, but the dancing not only conveyed the rhythmic and melodic patterns, but also revealed the atmosphere of the symphony. 

The Scotch Symphony was the first ballet by George Balanchine to be officially transferred to the Russian stage. The Leningrad Theater of Opera and Ballet named after S.M.  Kirov (now the Mariinsky Theater) received the right to the first production. This premiere took place in 1989, 37 years after the American one.