George Balanchine rarely spoke about his ballets or the process of making them. Didn’t the ballets speak for themselves and, besides, aren’t the critics always offering their analysis of what the artist was thinking? He made an exception for Apollo, though, calling Stravinsky’s score “a turning point in my life. It seemed to tell me that I could dare not to use everything—that I, too, could eliminate.” The lesson seemed to be revisited time and again, with Balanchine changing the ballet in name, scenic elements, cast size, and even length over a 50-year period. The final version, unveiled in 1978, was a few minutes shorter than the original. Apollo’s birth, enacted by Leto, was gone, along with the swaddling wraps that are pirouetted away in his first brash movements. The handmaidens who present the young god with his lyre and guide his hands through the first strokes are no longer there. The chariot and mountain seen in early versions are gone, too, along with the Grecian tunics and laurel wreaths. Even small pieces of the Stravinsky score are cut. What remains is the essence, pure and effective, lacking nothing.
I came to the ballet a bit by accident when I was 20. Patricia McBride assembled a small touring group to present a week’s worth of performances at Philadelphia’s Annenberg Center. I was there to dance Tarantella. During Tuesday’s onstage rehearsals, Ib Andersen, our Apollo, said how excited he was to fly home to Denmark on Sunday. Patty said something like, “How do you stand those red-eye flights?” to which Ib responded, “Oh I can’t stand them. That’s why I’m flying so early in the morning.” Ib had not realized that we had a Sunday performance and it now looked like we had a Sunday performance without a Sun God. Ib and Patty disappeared to discuss and a short while later Patty came to me and said I’d be her Apollo for the final show. Gulp. Patty was everyone’s favorite ballerina. She had joined New York City Ballet six years before I was born. She told me I would be fine and that four days was plenty of time to learn the ballet and that I should be careful, since she had a cracked rib.
Sunday afternoon, sometime in 1985, I debuted as Apollo with a surprising number of critics in attendance. In 2005, I retired from New York City Ballet with Apollo (again, with a surprising number of critics in attendance). I performed the ballet well over 100 times in 20 years and can count 15 different Terpsichores, ranging from the veteran Patricia McBride to a 14-year-old ballet student in Brazil named Carla Körbes. The ballet has been a constant in my career, and I take great pride in staging it now.
Carmina Burana, Kent Stowell’s majestic envisioning of 11th- and 12th-century poems to Carl Orff’s monumental score, is a reminder of the vision our founding artistic director had for PNB. In 1993, the year the Company moved into the Phelps Center, its new state of the art home, Kent did not want to convey the impression that things would be slowing down. In the same year as the move, Kent choreographed Cinderella and Carmina Burana, two works of tremendous scope with cast sizes that stretched the Company to its limit. They still do. Every member of the Company will dance in Carmina, along with several of our advanced students to complete the cast of 40. The triple threat of dancers, chorus, and orchestra will be felt to magnificent effect throughout the Hall.
Kent’s collaborations with Ming Cho Lee are always memorable. Next season, you can see two of them: Firebird and Swan Lake. In Carmina, Ming offers an architect’s eye and an engineer’s mastery. Completing this team is lighting designer Rico Chiarelli, who adds shadow, secrecy, and celebration to these robust tales.
As you savor these two signature PNB works, take a look at what we are offering in our 40th Anniversary Season. New works and classics, Balanchine and Wheeldon, guests and lectures, and countless opportunities to celebrate one of this country’s great artistic treasures, your Pacific Northwest Ballet. Show your support and appreciation by requesting your subscription today. You won’t want to miss it. Thanks for being with us.
– Peter Boal
Featured Photo: Peter Boal in George Blanchine’s Apollo. Choreography © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo © Paul Kolnik.