|No. 310 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast310|
This week’s Tuesday Blog is our quarterly podcast, and features a trio of short ballets by Igor Stravinsky that were all once choreographed by George Balanchine.
According to a 2002 article from the New York Times, although Stravinsky wrote only four scores for ballets by George Balanchine, the two artists had a long and mutually fruitful working relationship. Even as a young ballet student at the Imperial Theater School in Petersburg, Georgi Balanchivadze was immediately drawn to Stravinsky's vibrant music. By the time of his death in 1983, he had choreographed many of the composer's most important works. The powerful pulse of Stravinsky's music flowed relentlessly forward, begging to be placed into physical motion, to be visualized, to be danced. Even through those electrically charged Stravinskyan moments of silence that so powerfully jolt the music's continuity. No matter what the piece, the genre, the instrumentation, the choreographer declared that “every measure Eagerfeodorovitch ever wrote is good for dancing”.
The first ever Balanchine/Stravinskty collaboration was a 1925 “revival” of a choreographed interpretation of his tone poem Le Chant du Rossignol, which Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes attempted to mixed results five years earlier. Stravibnsky wrote then that “[he] had destined Le Chant du Rossignol for the concert platform, and a choreographic rendering seemed to [him] to be quite unnecessary." Originally, the choreography was to be by staff choreographer Leonid Massine's, but when that fell through, Diaghilev chose one of his newest students, George Balanchine, to choreograph the ballet. Stravinsky and Balanchine had similar taste in art, music, and movement and loved to create. This is the opening work in this week’s montage.
Diaghilev soon promoted Balanchine to ballet master of the company and encouraged his choreography. Between 1924 and Diaghilev's death in 1929, Balanchine created nine ballets, as well as lesser works. During these years, he worked with composers such as Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Claude Debussy, Erik Satie, and Maurice Ravel, and artists who designed sets and costumes, such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Rouault, and Henri Matisse, creating new works that combined all the arts.
Among his new works, during 1928 in Paris, Balanchine premiered Apollon musagète (Apollo and the muses) in collaboration with Stravinsky; it was one of his most innovative ballets, combining classical ballet and classical Greek myth and images with jazz movement. He described it as "the turning point in my life". Apollo is regarded as the original neoclassical ballet and brought the male dancer to the forefront, giving him two solos within the ballet. Apollo is known for its minimalism, utilizing simple costumes and sets. This allowed the audience not to be distracted from the movement. Balanchine considered music to be the primary influence on choreography, as opposed to the narrative. Apollo is the middle work in this week’s montage.
Closing the trio, Agon occupies a central position in Balanchine’s oeuvre, a ground-shifting masterpiece in which he and Stravinsky drew from mid-17th-century court dances to create what Balanchine called a “quintessential contemporary ballet” that represented a total collaboration with the composer. Harshly astringent at times, sportily athletic at others, the tightly knit “Agon” includes one of the most eerily intense and sensuous of pas de deux.
I think you will love this music too