George Balanchine
George Balanchine

“Dancing is music made visible.” ― George Balanchine

George Balanchine was an accomplished musician. In addition to his ballet training he studied piano, music theory, composition and harmony. He loved and respected music. Therefore, it stands to reason that Balanchine’s relationship to his music and especially the composers he worked with is so often written about.

Balanchine and Stravinsky. Image: Martha Swope/©The New York Public Library
Balanchine and Stravinsky. Image: Martha Swope/©The New York Public Library

The greatest of these relationships would easily be the life-long friendship that Stravinsky had with Balanchine. George Balanchine made 40 ballets to the music of Igor Stravinsky and to many the two are considered to have been among the most prolific and brilliant teams in performing arts history.  If you are new to this blog you can read more about that here (link to previous post) and you owe it to yourself to hear from them in their own words in this video

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However, not every choreographer – composer relationship is as symbiotic, fruitful, or full of mutual respect. Take for instance Balanchine and Prokofiev. When Sergei Prokofiev had envisioned Prodigal Son and the movement that would be danced to the score he was creating, he imagined naturalistic movement, and the Siren, according to Balanchine biographer Bernard Taper was to be “a fragile young girl with a sad exquisite grace.” When he arrived in Paris for final rehearsals he was shocked to discover the stylized choreography Balanchine had created and a Siren that was a fiery, sensuous departure from his delicate maiden.

Prokofiev
Prokofiev

The deep creative differences also led to a clash over money as Prokofiev had no interest in sharing any part of his royalties with Balanchine. At the time, there were royalties for the composer and librettist but not the choreographer. During their argument Prokofiev insulted Balanchine and he never used another Prokofiev score again.

Left to right: The original "Prodigal Son" Sergiy Lifar, Sergiy Dhiagilev and and Sergei Prokofiev.
Left to right: The original “Prodigal Son” Sergiy Lifar, Sergiy Dhiagilev and and Sergei Prokofiev.

Who knows what these two could have created together had things turned out differently during Prodigal Son. The ballet Prodigal Son lends itself to speculation in multiple ways as it was the last piece Dhiaghilev would commission for The Ballets Russes before he died. That sent a young Balanchine on a journey that took him to America where he would revolutionize American ballet and launch the careers of countless dancers and choreographers, all of whom coveted the chance to dance Balanchine’s Prodigal Son. Even today, over 80 years after its inception, Prodigal Son remains a wish list item for many a ballet dancer, each bringing their own stamp and interpretation to Balanchine’s steps and Prokofiev’s lusty and dynamic score. But that is a story for another blog.

Now is your chance to experience the ballet that brought Prokofiev and Balanchine together for their short-lived partnership. Celebrating Balanchine runs June 14th – 16th. Only one weekend and four performances! Don’t miss out on this intriguing look at three very different ballets with three wildly different composers: Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Vivaldi.

Alison Roper and Chauncey Parsons in the company premiere of George Balanchine's "Prodigal Son," one of three works on the Celebrating Balanchine program, running June 14-16, 2013 at the Keller Auditorium as part of Oregon Ballet Theatre's 2012-2013 Season. Photo by Andy Batt.
Alison Roper and Chauncey Parsons in the company premiere of George Balanchine’s “Prodigal Son,” one of three works on the Celebrating Balanchine program, running June 14-16, 2013 at the Keller Auditorium as part of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s 2012-2013 Season. Photo by Andy Batt.

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