Say the word “serenade” in a group of ballet dancers and immediately you’ve conjured visions of pale blue gossamer tulle floating midair to Tchaikovsky’s dramatic score. The word “serenade” (that’s, “ser – eh – nahd” darling!) fills a dancer’s ears with a full orchestra of powerful strings and enlivens their muscles to unconsciously float into intricate formations. This is because Serenade is the title of choreographic legend George Balanchine’s most iconic work.
Created in June of 1934 for the School of American Ballet, Serenade was the first piece Balanchine choreographed in America. It has since become one of New York City Ballet’s signature works. When the great choreographer was creating this piece for the students of his school, he originally began as a lesson in stage technique. This is evidenced in the final product, with unique elements that the audience should enjoy searching for. For example, when a student fell during rehearsal, this was added into the official choreography. When another student arrived late one day, this too was incorporated into the ballet.
With its large cast of 28 whirling around the stage in delicate blue costumes, Serenade appears almost like a dream. Balanchine’s detailed choreography seems to work not for or against, but perfect with the music, as if the two were never separate. The choreographer had a special relationship with Tchaikovsky’s music. In an interview, the late Balanchine said:
“In everything that I did to Tschaikovsky’s music,” he told the interviewer, “I sensed his help. It wasn’t real conversation. But when I was working and saw that something was coming of it, I felt that it was Tschaikovsky who had helped me.”
Balanchine’s affinity connection to the composer is certainly apparent in Serenade, the dancers dictating ever delicate intricacy in the powerful score. Those who knew Balanchine recall that for him, music was paramount. This perhaps explains why Serenade appears to be a plotless ballet, though the emotion expressed and relationships formed onstage call forth a different response from each individual audience member. For its iconic history, its breathtaking movement, and its masterful music, don’t miss Balanchine’s Serenade, coming to The Vets stage this February as part of FBP’s MIRRORS.
For tickets, click here.
Repertory notes provided courtesy of and adapted from New York City Ballet Online Repertory Index.
Photos of Miami City Ballet by Gene Schiavone.
“Serenade” choreography by George Balanchine. © The George Balanchine Trust
This post was written by Kirsten Evans. The author is in her eighth season as a Company Dancer with Festival Ballet Providence. She is also the Company PR & Communications Assistant, as well as the writer of a personal blog, Setting The Barre.