Courtesy of Charlotte Ballet
In 1946, acclaimed ballet choreographer George Balanchine found himself with a bit of spare pocket change. After weighing the potential of his possible expenditures, he approached composer Paul Hindemith and asked him to write a chamber score for the piano and strings. One month and $500 later, the celebrated ballet called “The Four Temperaments” was born, a perfect union of Hindemith’s scoring and Balanchine’s choreography.
Now, 68 years later, the historical alliance of symphony and ballet will again manifest itself at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater when the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and the Charlotte Ballet unite in a fusion of the arts that strives to incorporate tradition, ingenuity and originality.
The first dance on the bill is Mark Diamond’s “Water Music,” danced to a composition of the same name by Georg Frideric Handel. At the request of King George I, Handel’s score originally premiered in the 1700s in a concert along the Thames River.
Diamond said he similarly tried to incorporate themes of water and elements of neoclassicism into his choreography.
“There [are] some green and blue themes of water in the lighting and in the costumes,” he said. “There’s one section which is sort of like a sailor dance, designed for one male. It’s a really abstract, elegant piece.”
Like much of the music composed during the art world’s Baroque period, “Water Music” lends itself to a dance program despite it not being penned for cross-collaboration.
For guest conductor Grant Cooper and the CSO, it’s a chance to put their own 21st-century spin on a piece of classical music.
“There’s no scenario attached to the score nor any emotional content the audience has a previous expectation of,” Cooper said. “There’s little import as to whether it was intended for dance; it’s an element of re-creation through creation, and that’s a big part of any art form.”
We Danced Through Life
Following Diamond’s piece is the premiere of a new ballet by Sasha Janes called “We Danced Through Life.” The dance was commissioned by Chautauquan Terrie Hauck in honor of her late husband, Jimmy Hauck, who was an avid supporter of Chautauqua’s dance programs.
Janes said that the dance’s choreography attempts to capture the essence of Jimmy, and, in a pas de deux midway through the piece, his relationship with his wife.
The fact that this ballet is rooted in a personal story does not, however, mean that it is emotionally inaccessible to a public audience, Janes said.
“I don’t think you need to know the story necessarily,” he said. “You can make your own story if you want, because it’s an abstract piece. It’s still just dance. There’s a lot of dancing in the first movement. As a piece to watch, I think it will be hugely energetic, because of the fullness of the music.”
The score will sound familiar to the audience — the parts are all rearranged snippets of Antonín Dvořák’s famous “New World Symphony.” Cooper estimates he spent “multiple dozens” of hours cutting the sound using a software program, then many more to cut-and-paste the sheet music for the orchestra.
Because they only had 20 minutes programmed for the piece — “New World Symphony” in its entirety takes 45 — Cooper wound up omitting the first movement completely. Instead, the performance will begin with Dvořák’s third movement before backtracking to the second, ending with his original conclusion.
“It’s really arranged in the sense of [Janes’] initial vision,” Cooper said. “We wanted to make sure and highlight the portions that closely relate to dance. The third movement especially; it’s a minuet on steroids.”
The composition’s energy will be ramped up even more by the fact that it will be performed live, an opportunity that Janes is happy to have.
He said that coordinating his choreography to Dvořák’s music was an effort that took a lot of back-and-forth with Cooper.
“I have a great rapport with Grant,” Janes said. “He’s from New Zealand, and I’m from Australia, so we have that in common. And we have the same sort of sense of humor. I have a lot of respect for what he does, and he’s always helpful in giving me suggestions.”
The Four Temperaments
The evening’s grand finale will be Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments,” as staged by former Balanchine dancer Patricia McBride. The ballet is a massive production, with 19 female dancers and six male dancers.
In order to secure the proper number of performers, McBride had to recruit student and apprentice dancers for the piece.
“It’s one of the black-and-white ballets, as they say, because the women are in black leotards and the men have white tops and black tights,” McBride said. “When this ballet was first done, the dancers wore very elaborate costumes. But Balanchine decided to strip it down to leotards, because he couldn’t see the choreography — the costumes hid the movement. That wasn’t really done in 1946, so it was the first of many ballets to come where the dancers wore leotards.”
Though it’s a composition familiar to the traditional ballet world, Cooper figures it will be the biggest challenge of the night for the CSO.
Despite it not being part of most musicians’ repertoire, he’s confident Chautauqua’s band of “perpetually high-level” symphony members will be raring to go by show time.
“It all comes down to practicality,” he said. “Everyone has to go in extremely prepared to all the rehearsal sessions. We’ll have the flow of the music down, it’s our job to allow the dance itself happen.”
Of course, a traditional ballet comes with its own set of pomp and circumstance.
McBride said she is thrilled to have the dance performed the way it was originally meant to be performed: with live accompaniment.
“The beauty of live performance is that you never know what to expect, you don’t know what the actual performance is going to be like until you’re out there,” McBride said. “I think it’s inspiring to dance with live musicians. The dancers are so close to the musicians in the pit that they get to see how well they perform and how exciting it is for them, too.”