What is it? A celebration of the best of American ballet—big, fast, energetic, straightforward, and unapologetically virtuosic—featuring choreographers George Balanchine, Benjamin Millepied, and Justin Peck. See where American ballet started and see where it is today.
Wait, who? George Balanchine, the father of American ballet and founder of New York City Ballet; Benjamin Millepied, of Black Swan-fame, but also the director of the ground-breaking L.A. Dance Project; and Justin Peck, current wunderkind and NYCB dancer whose choreography is breaking all kinds of boundaries in ballet.
Who’s it for? Anyone who wants to be transported to another world, who loves the art at SF MOMA, or thinks Aaron Copland is the greatest American composer.
What am I seeing? This ballet was the first ballet that George Balanchine choreographed in the United States in 1934. Gorgeous music, long blue skirts, moody lighting, and hints of a romance make this ballet one of the most popular pieces of the 20th century. Odds are if you ask a dancer what their favorite ballet to perform is, they’ll say Serenade.
What am I hearing? Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C major, Op. 48. Composed in 1880, this piece has four movements and was modeled after a Mozart sonata. In the ballet, Balanchine flips the third and fourth movements, ending on an elegiac note.
What should I look for? This ballet was choreographed on students, and Balanchine incorporated mistakes and accidents into the choreography. Watch for the moment when a girl falls to the ground, or runs in late, or when a soloist’s hair comes down from her bun. All these moments of chance have been immortalized in Balanchine’s ballet.
THE CHAIRMAN DANCES—QUARTET FOR TWO
What am I seeing? A (partly) brand-new work by choreographer Benjamin Millepied. In the real world, Millepied may be best known for being the husband of Natalie Portman and the choreographer of Black Swan, but in the ballet world, he’s known for being a former principal dancer at New York City Ballet, the former director of the Paris Opera Ballet (check out the documentary Reset for behind-the-scenes details on that relationship!), and now the director of L.A. Dance Project. Having declared himself “bored” with ballet in Vulture last year, you can expect his ballets to push the envelope on how dance, technology, and music interact.
What am I hearing? John Adams’ The Chairman Dances, a 13-minute “outtake” from his opera Nixon in China and Adams’ Christian Zeal and Activity, the middle section of his three-part ensemble work American Standard. Adams is a popular composer among choreographers these days (think Liam Scarlett’s Fearful Symmetries, Ashley Page’s Guide to Strange Places, or Mark Morris’s Joyride, all choreographed for SF Ballet) and The Chairman Dances has been used by choreographers as different as Lucinda Childs and Peter Martins.
What should I look for? Look for the way the group and the soloists interact: how they move in and out of patterns and shapes. And listen for the musical change when the main couple dances together: when the music was first composed for Nixon in China this music was supposed to be when Madame Mao and Chairman Mao would dance a foxtrot together.
RODEO: FOUR DANCE EPISODES
What am I seeing? Made for 15 men and 1 woman, Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes turns ballet convention on its head—something choreographer Justin Peck, a soloist at New York City Ballet, has been doing a lot lately. From same-sex partnering to ballets in sneakers (join us for our Unbound festival to see that ballet!), he is interested in exploring how the traditional architecture and technique of ballet can adapt to modern ideas and worldviews. This ballet is athletic, competitive, and virtuosic, but also allows space for these male dancers to be vulnerable and sensitive.
What am I hearing? Aaron Copland’s Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo. The ballet Rodeo was commissioned by the Ballets Russes and choreographed by Agnes de Mille, one of the first great female American ballet choreographers, in 1942. Four Dance Episodes is the symphonic version, orchestrated in 1945. You’ll probably recognize this music: it’s been used in just about every commercial that’s supposed to be “American” in feel.
What should I look for? The same-sex partnering, the moment of surprise when the woman joins the group, and the way that the pas de deux is a partnership of equals.
Listen to the Bright Fast Cool Blue Spotify Playlist
From Tchaikovsky to Aaron Copeland to John Adams, Bright Fast Cool Blue covers the full spectrum of ballet music, from classical to American to contemporary. Listen ahead of time, or revisit your favorite moments with SF Ballet.