Three Iconic Productions of the American Ballet School

Three Iconic Productions of the American Ballet School

These plotless ballets by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins have become recognizable symbols of American ballet and part of world ballet history at the same time.

Symphony in C: a ballet classic from Paris to New York

George Balanchine set this one-act plotless ballet to the music of Georges Bizet's Symphony No. 1. New Yorkers saw the premiere in 1948 on stage of the City Center of Music and Drama.

Balanchine had already worked with this piece by the French composer: a year earlier, he had used the Symphony in his ballet Crystal Palace for the Grand Opera. Then the choreographer returned to America and founded the Ballet Society.

It was the Symphony in C that became the first production for New York artists under the direction of Balanchine. The American version of the production differed from the French one not only in the name. For the New York performance, George Balanchine chose monochrome costumes: the ballerinas appeared on stage in white tutus, the dancers - in black leotards; while at the Grand Opera, the artists danced in multi-colored outfits. Black-and-white stage images gave rise to associations with piano keys, and the new name seemed to be moving away from romantic loftiness toward transparency and clarity of classical ballet. 

Vadim Gaevsky, a theater critic and ballet expert, wrote about this performance as follows: 

“The plot of the plotless Symphony in C is a collective triumph and a collective celebration, a triumphant victory of what unites artists (and, perhaps, people in general)… In a complex compositional construct, Balanchine glorifies and accurately captures that fabulous, happy, unique moment when so different, so fiercely competing étoiles, stars and principal dancers forget about yesterday's grievances, about their eternal enmity... "

The Symphony in C premiered at the Bolshoi Theater in 1999. Ten years later, the production was resumed. And today this ballet is a recognized example of modern classics. 

Jewels: the history of modern ballet in the brilliance of gemstones

The production was the first "full-length" plotless ballet in history. The New York audience first saw this three-act performance in 1967. George Balanchine's Jewels may have been inspired by the sparkling windows of the Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry store on Fifth Avenue. However, there is a good chance that the choreographer was being ironic, comparing his performance with the American fashion industry. Balanchine wrote: 

“Of course, I have always liked jewels; after all, I am an Oriental, from Georgia in the Caucasus. I like the color of gems, the beauty of stones.”  

However, beneath the brilliant "shell" of Jewels you can see the entire creative path of Balanchine. The choreographer set the ballet in three parts: Emeralds to the music by Gabriel Fauré, Rubies to the works by Igor Stravinsky, and Diamonds to the music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Three faces of the world of classical dance: the emerald color characterized European ballet, unhurried and restrained; rubies were associated with American ballet, where you could guess jazz shades and the character of New York; and the diamond part was dedicated to classical St. Petersburg ballet - ceremonial and luxurious. 

The first show of the ballet in the USSR took place in 1972: the New York City Ballet was on a tour with the production of Jewels on stage of the Kremlin Palace of Congresses. For decades, this ballet was put on pause for Russian audiences. Jewels returned in 1999 to the Mariinsky Theatre, and since then this production has established itself in the status of a new ballet classic. The production premiered at the Bolshoi Theater in 2012. Set designer Alyona Pikalova and costume designer Elena Zaitseva created a unique visual interpretation for the play. 

In the Night: three faces of love

Jerome Robbins' one-act ballet to the music by Frederic Chopin was released in 1970 on stage of New York's Lincoln Center. The composition of the production was made up of three duets, each showing different stages of relationships and emotions, and the final dance with all the artists participating. Three nocturnes by Chopin became the accompaniment for the dancers of the New York City Ballet. A few years before the premiere, the choreographer said: 

“Chopin has a lot of pieces that I like, for example, nocturnes. I could choreograph another ballet to this music.”

And so it happened. The first duet turned out to be lyrical, smooth and unhurried: the choreographer seemed to compare it with the beginning of a love affair. The second duet is clearer and more mundane, associated with making an important decision in the life of a couple. The third one is the most intense emotionally - love, passion and hatred are intertwined in choreography and music. 

The choreographer brought the production to the Russian stage himself: Jerome Robbins formed the performing teams on his own and rehearsed the ballet on stage of the Mariinsky Theatre. The premiere took place in 1992; the future head of the Bolshoi Ballet company Mahar Vaziev danced in it. 

In 2009, Robbins’ ballet returned to the Mariinsky. Then it premiered in Moscow - at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theater.