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The Ultimate
Balanchine

Boston Ballet Company

May 8, 2010

Boston Opera House

The Ultimate Balanchine is not a ballet centralized around a single storyline. It instead focuses on the famous choreographer George Balanchine (1904-1983), known both for his mastery of traditional ballet technique and for his revolutionary style that founded modern ballet. The Ultimate Balanchine is a compilation of three of Balanchine’s ballets: The Four Temperaments, Apollo, composed by Igor Stravinsky, and Theme and Variations, composed by Tchaikovsky. The very distinct styles piece together form a program that displays the extensive range of Balanchine’s career.

The performance begins with The Four Temperaments, a ballet made by New York City Ballet, which Balanchine co-founded. The Four Temperaments refers to the psychological idea that all humans can be categorized by the four “humors,” later called “temperaments.” What these four temperaments are have been changed and modified throughout time. The musical piece defines them as the choleric, the melancholic, the phlegmatic, and the sanguine. Being a typology enthusiast, I was naturally engulfed by the physical manifestations of the human characters. The vivid choreography is intensified by removing the degree of separation to which traditional ballet choreography is restricted. The dancers exist to express the intrinsic personalities themselves, not to perform actions associated with the emotions that support an overarching storyline. With the focus placed upon the temperaments alone, the expressions directly connect to the emotions.

Balanchine took a risk placing the ballet as a stand-alone, without the aid of a plot, scenery, or costumes. Stripping away the distractions, the ballet is left with only its core elements — the dance itself, the unique movements, and detachable rhythms. Balanchine powerfully isolated his ballet to leave room for what he believed to be the pure elements of dance, and he revealed the intimate connection between the music and the dance. The dancers are the visual form of the musical score. The musical score is the auditory form of the dance. The audience is challenged to comprehend the intricacies of ballet by glimpsing the deep interconnectivity of choreography.

Next up was Apollo (1928), an example of the influential collaboration and enduring relationship between Balanchine and Stravinsky. Embodying the majestic and glorious style of Greek and Roman mythology, Apollo presents the eponymous character in crisp white, offset by the fresh blue canvas that he stands against. He is visited by three muses: Calliope — the muse of poetry, Polyhymnia — the muse of rhetoric, and Terpsichore — the muse of dance. Apollo, referred to by some as Balanchine’s first notable work, exemplifies his neoclassical flavor.

Finally, the performance finishes with Theme and Variation, which is set to the final movement of Suite No. 3 for Orchestra in G major, Op. 55 (1884) by Tchaikovsky. Theme and Variation presents a more traditional ballet scene: a slew of ballerinas in tutus and crowns, fluttering gracefully in unison across the stage. Although less remarkable, the third act provided yet another dimension to Balanchine. It was an experience similar to appreciating Picasso’s work prior to his entrance into his colorful periods, acknowledging the artist’s raw talent and mastery of technique prior to his deconstruction and reworking of the fundamentals. After the intensity and dramatic personalities of the previous two acts, Theme and Variation ended the show on a calm note of simplicity.

The Ultimate Balanchine presents all the lures of a tasting menu. Requiring a mere 2-hour commitment, the show takes the audience on a travel through the vast capabilities of arguably the most influential choreographer in the 20th century, George Balanchine, complete with a palette cleanser (or intermission) between each course.

The Ultimate Balanchine continued at the Boston Opera House until May 16. More information about the show is available on the Boston Ballet website, www.bostonballet.org.