Is this ballet for you?
Go if: You are captivated by the idea of a downsized version of the 3 act classical ballet “take all the mime, settings and narrative away and just leave the difficult steps and the glorious dancing”.
Skip if: “Yes but what are they dancing about?” You are put off by dance without at least some semblance of a story.
For the costumes: As much as we love Karinska tutus, we are very partial to Irina Press’s exquisite color-coded costumes worn by the Mariinsky.
This ballet was originally choreographed by George Balanchine for the Paris Opera Ballet under the name Le Palais de Cristal. Each movement corresponded to a jewel as reflected in the tutu colours: red for “Rubies”, black for “Black Diamonds”, green for “Emeralds” and white for “Pearls”, a concept which Mr. B revisited decades later in Jewels. At that time he was a guest ballet master at POB and after being introduced to Bizet‘s Symphony in C by Stravinsky he envisioned and staged the ballet in just two weeks. Le Palais de Cristal premiered in 1947.
In 1948 Mr. B restaged the ballet for the New York City Ballet. He gave it a new name, black and white settings and costumes by Karinska and more importantly, he gave it new sections of choreography. The inspiration and idea were kept but Balanchine changed many of the petit allegro sequences as well as substantially altering the 2nd movement, presumably due to his preference for choreographing to dancers’ particular strengths. Nowadays the original Le Palais de Cristal is rarely performed: most companies dance the 1948 version created for City Ballet, although POB still have it on their repertoire and it was danced by The Tokyo Ballet in the 90′s.
Some Fun Facts
- It is said that when Symphony in C premiered in NY, Jerome Robbins was in the audience and immediately wrote to Balanchine asking for a job.
- Suzanne Farrell has mentioned that Symphony in C was the first ballet she ever saw and that it made her determined to become a City Ballet ballerina.
As with many Balanchine ballets, Symphony in C has no underlying story. It is a representation of the music by means of movement. Every single movement of Bizet’s symphony corresponds to a different choreographic scheme, with basic motifs and patterns for the corps de ballet; each led by a principal ballerina and a danseur.
The Allegro Vivo (aka “Turn Key“): The movement consists of energetic dancing with quick-changing off-balancing positions, petit allegro steps and plenty of turns. For the ballerina lots of pirouettes in the variation; for the danseur a tall order of beaten jumps. The ballerina only stops to catch her breath when she pauses in arabesque between this or that jump. The principals and soloists join the mini-corps towards the end and for every supported pirouette the ballerina does, the corps answer with a combination of jumps. The finale has everyone executing a series of beaten assemblés, while the principal couple executes one last supported pirouette which goes into supported attitude devant once the music stops.
The Adagio (aka “Bend & Snap“): Here the music is more lyrical and sentimental, so in several portions the mini-corps frames the principal couple (think Swan Lake Act II Pas de Deux) while they dance a Pas de Deux filled with lifts, balances and extensions; there are plenty of supported penchés, including the “nosedive into knee” made famous by Suzanne Farrell. As the music picks up mid-movement, the ballerina starts her variation. The section ends with the corps framing her again while she lets herself fall into her partner’s arms.
Allegro Vivace (aka “Might as Well Jump”): The music becomes energetic and full of momentum. This section opens with the mini-corps - six girls and two soloist couples - grand jeté-ing across the stage. The main couple enters in a manège of grand jetés interlaced with single saut-de-basques and temps levée. They get to the middle of a triangular formation; everyone relevé-ing non-stop. The main couple fly off the wings, returning after soloist couples and corps have engaged in yet more jumping. Repeat. Leads enter for the last time, displaying bravura jumps, pirouettes and quick-footed steps, all the way back to front and then in diagonal lines. This section concludes with the corps kneeling and looking gracefully towards the audience while the ballerina is held in arabesque by her partner.
Allegro Vivace (aka “Let’s Do What They Just Did”): In this final movement all principal couples join the fourth couple for an over-the-top display of technical prowess. It opens with the fourth ballerina going through a sequence of turns (many pirouettes & fouett ées), small jumps and changing poses, the corps moving around her. Her partner and two male soloists enter in blazing grand jetés and it all builds up from there.
After the briefest of pauses as the fourth couple finishes their variation, all leads, soloists and corps de ballet join in. The ballet ends with all 48 dancers assemblé-ing in unison into a rousing finale; all principal ballerinas fall into their partners’ arms while soloist ballerinas are lifted in the background.
Georges Bizet (1858-1875) is said to have composed his symphony while he was a 17-year old student at the Paris Conservatory as a class assignment. The score was discovered in the Conservatory’s library in 1933 (80 years thereafter), having never been mentioned by the composer in his letters and unknown to his early biographers. One of the theories behind it was that the piece had too many similarities to Symphony No. 1 in D (1855) composed by Bizet’s own teacher Gounod. Nevertheless, Symphony in C showed how gifted Bizet was as a melodist and orchestrator.
The full piece was first performed on 26 February, 1935 in Basel, Switzerland by Felix Weingartner. Certain motifs reappear in such Bizet later works as Le pêcheurs de perles, L’Arlésienne and Don Procopio.
Essential Spotify/Ipod playlist
Symphony in C Major (also referred as Bizet’s First Symphony)
I. Allegro Vivo 10:21
II. Adagio 9:37
III. Allegro Vivace 5:55
IV. Allegro Vivace 8:43
Choreography: George Balanchine
Music: Georges Bizet (Symphony No 1 in C major, 1855)
Le Palais de Cristal
Costumes & Designs: Léonor Fini
Premiere: 7 July, 1947 by the Paris Opera Ballet. Thêatre National de L’Opéra.
Cast: Lycette Darsonval, Alexandre Kalioujny (1st Mov); Roger Ritz, Tamara Toumanova (2nd Mov); Michel Renaul, Micheline Bardin (3rd Mov) and Madeleine Lafon, Max Bozzoni (4th Mov).
Symphony in C
Costumes: Barbara Karinska
Designs: Mark Stanley
Premiere: 11 October, 1948 by the New York City Ballet at NY City Center.
Cast: Maria Tallchief, Nicholas Magallanes (1st Mov); Tanaquil LeClercq, Francisco Moncion (2nd Mov), Beatrice Tompkins, Herbert Bliss (3rd Mov), Elise Reiman, John Taras (4th Mov).
Sources and Further Information:
- Symphony in C Notes by The George Balanchine Trust [link]
- Symphony in C Notes by New York City Ballet [link]
- Palais de Cristal. Estelle Souche’s Dance Site. [link]
- Symphony in C in Paris by Alexander Meinertz. Review at danceviewtimes, October 2003. [link]
- D for Denmark: renewing its ties with the Balanchine Tradition, by Alastair Macaulay. Review at The New York Times, March 2009. [link]
- Symphonic Balanchine by Lori Ortiz. Review at ExploreDance.com, May, 2008. [link]
- Wikipedia entry for Georges Bizet [link]
- Wikipedia entry for Georges Bizet’s Symphony in C [link]
- Wikipedia entry for George Balanchine’s Symphony in C [link]
- Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th edition, 1954