Love Stories… Those great enduring duos: Princess Aurora and her Prince (I know he has a name, but does anyone know it?). Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. Romeo and Juliet. Peanut Butter and Jelly… I know. PB & J are inanimate objects, incapable of offering or experiencing love, but you can’t tell me that their union isn’t a magnificent one that’s stood the test of time! But I’ve forgotten one that’s worth mentioning… and in my opinion it’s way better than PB & J!
Balanchine and Stravinsky
A perfect marriage between dance and music. A romance that has been immortalized through 39 ballets, 22 of which, in 1972 were performed as a part of the New York City Ballet Stravinsky Festival (In all there were actually 31 ballets performed in this 8-day festival but the other 9 by other choreographers…). The mere thought of dancing 22 Balanchine-Stravinsky ballets makes my heart sing and my head hurt…I can’t imagine the kind of counting that must have gone on…I mean it’s bad enough having to manage one Stravinsky piece but 22?!!! Confusion. Chaos. Migraine.
Well I’ve been blessed to dance in a few of these 31- namely Symphony in 3 Movements, Rubies and Agon. Other than the common denominators of composer, choreographer and pink tights and pointe shoes, these ballets couldn’t be more different. Symphony in 3 Movements is an homage to WWII with its formations and patterns resembling armies advancing or planes circling. Rubies is a sexy, light-hearted little number set to Stravinsky’s jazzy Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra. And Agon… In my opinion the cherry on top of this Balanchine-Stravinsky sundae is really best described by Balanchine himself: “See the music, hear the dance.” And literally with minimal costumes (black leos and pink tights) and sets (a blue backdrop) that’s all you see… You see the music danced.
Well, I’m happy to say that last Friday night I got to add a fourth Balanchine-Stravinksy jewel to my collection: Divertimento from “Le Baiser de la Feé.” And once again this sweet ballet hardly resembles the previous three already “in my bag”, so to speak.
Dressed in a sweet little tutu with a golden bodice and and off-the-shoulder puffy sleeve, you’d think I’d be dancing to Mozart or Haydn not to the music of the man who composed The (riot-inducing) Rite of Spring! And yet the score for Baiser is strangely melodic. Don’t get me wrong. It’s still Stravinsky with its wonderful rhythms and crazy counts (a 6, an 11, three (two?) 10’s and a 7… yikes!). But that’s the fun of it… You exercise both your body and your mind. And you get to have fun with it too! There’s a playfulness to Balanchine’s musicality that in one sense is reminiscent to Rubies… just watch the principle woman execute her solo. It seems like her feet are flirting with the floor as she piques about… The same goes for the demis and corps as we punctuate the music with speedy and precise footwork in the first movement… And boy is it ever pufffy!
But what I love most about dancing Baiser, more than the musicality, more than the mental and physical challenge it presents, is that it feels like home. We had our first onstage rehearsal for this Rep last Tuesday night and my soul felt like it was singing as I danced the first movement. And I was reminded once again that this is why I do what I do. This is why I dance!
So needless to say I’m quite excited. Not just because I got to add another Balanchine-Stravinsky jewel to my resumé… but because for the first time I got to premiere this new piece to PNB’s repertoire in a demi-soloist role. It’s a first for PNB and a first for me too! I’m excited. I’m humbled. And I’m so grateful!
And this is just one love story – okay I guess two: between Balanchine and Stravinsky, and Jessika and ballet. There’s a whole evening full of them! So if you haven’t bought your tickets yet, what are you waiting for? DO IT! You can get them at www.pnb.org. But you’d better hurry… “And they lived happily ever after” is just right around the corner.
Jessika Anspach in Divertimento from Le Baiser de la Feé. Photo © Angela Sterling.