Violin Concerto George Balanchine Ballets de Monte-Carlo
©Alice Blangero
©Alice Blangero

Violin Concerto

Composed by Igor Stravinsky, the Violin Concerto in D minor is the result of a rich partnership with the violinist Samuel Dushkin, attesting to the discovery of the instrument’s fascinating possibilities, which Balanchine later endeavoured to express in the language of dance. He created a first choreographic version, titled Balustrade, in 1941 for the Original Ballets Russes. The ballet was presented on 22 January in New York, conducted by Igor Stravinsky (with Samuel Dushkin playing solo violin).
Three decades later, when Balanchine returned to this score, his original choreography was forgotten. “What is created at a given time is valid for that time...” he said. Wishing to pay tribute to Stravinsky (who died the previous year) at the Festival bearing his late friend’s name, Balanchine decided to recreate a ballet to the Violin Concerto’s music. In the new 1972 version, Tchelitchev’s sets and costumes disappeared. The choreographer’s will to pare down the original version reflects his desire to focus exclusively on the relationship between ballet and music. Thus, Balanchine pursued his great dream: “See the music, hear the dance.” The new choreography perfectly respects the score: opening with a Toccata and concluding with a Capriccio with two Arias in between.

In creating this completely fresh work, Balanchine produced an entirely new ballet that instantly be- came one of his masterpieces. Lincoln Kirstein called it a “blockbuster” and Balanchine, who refused to refer to his works in terms of preference, even accepted to say this ballet was “well done”, in the sense that he had reached a “certain” level of achievement, from a technical standpoint.

The piece clearly illustrates the dislocated classicism Balanchine had begun with The Four Temperaments in 1946 and further developed in collaboration with Stravinsky ten years later in Agon. With this ballet, Balanchine reached the peak of his art. The writer Nancy Goldner wrote that Violin Concerto was «the most visual music composition Balanchine ever choreographed.”

Igor Stravinsky had obviously sensed Balanchine’s exceptional gift: “Balustrade, the ballet that George Balanchine and Pavel Tchelitchew made of the Violin Concerto, was one of the most satisfactory visualizations of any of my works. Balanchine composed the choreography as he listened to my recording, and I could actually observe him conceiving gesture, movement, combination, composition. The result was a series of dialogues perfectly complementary to and coordinated with the dialogues of the music.”

Choregraphy: George Balanchine
Music: Igor Stravinski
Lighting: Dominique Drillot
Duration: 23 min

Premiere by New York City Ballet on June 18th 1972, Stravinsky Festival, New York State Theater
Premiere by Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo on December 28th 1986, Salle Garnier Opéra de Monte-Carlo
Re-staged on April 26th 2018, Grimaldi Forum Monaco