Coordinating ballet with symphony is a puzzle that involves balancing visual and musical aspects of performance.
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.
Tonight, the Charlotte Ballet and Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra are putting their thumbprint on two of the dance world’s most revered compositions.
Before Week Seven’s focus on “Diplomacy” comes to an end, Chautauqua Dance associate artistic director Mark Diamond will relate diplomacy to Chautauquans in a way no speaker would have attempted.
NCDT dancers will perform Diamond’s “The Decision Maker” to open their final show of the season, which begins at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater. Dancers will be accompanied by the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, with guest conductor Grant Cooper.
The first concert Grant Cooper gave as music director of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra fell on Sept. 15, 2001.
Airline flights, entertainment and sporting events were canceled, and Cooper recalled the low spirits and confusion of Americans. Instead of postponing the concert, he decided the orchestra would honor those who lost their lives and serve as an “important first step in healing.”
Ballet is a decidedly aristocratic art form, born in the courts of Europe and still, even today, laced with proper positions and bows. Major European ballet groups in Paris, London and Moscow each have precise stylistic proportions and repertoires that are embedded in the history of the art form.
So it is fun to watch how American companies have taken a formal and often staid dance format and given it their own twist, which local audiences can see in an open air, festival-like setting such as Chautauqua’s Amphitheater. However, they thankfully have not often had to deal with cool temperatures such as those seen at the surprisingly terrific — given the circumstances — final performance of North Carolina Dance Theatre and Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, expertly conducted by Grant Cooper.
This time of the season has a bittersweet quality. Our schools of the fine and performing arts and some of our professional arts ensembles are performing for the last time during the upcoming week. Throughout the season we have witnessed the many gifts of these companies. In particular, we have seen the arc of development of the festival dancers, the Music School Festival Orchestra, Chautauqua Theater Company, to cite only those featured in the next few days.
Saturday evening you can enjoy Shakespeare’s As You Like It at Bratton Theater at 6 p.m. and move swiftly on to the Amphitheater for the North Carolina Dance Theatre, our resident professional dance company, accompanied by the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Grant Cooper, a newly minted American citizen.
It feels somewhat seamless to think of leaving the Forest of Arden within Bratton Theater for a stroll through Bestor Plaza to the Amphitheater, having just heard that in such a place we must find “tongues in tress, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones and good in everything.”
Three of the four selections for Saturday night’s ballet performance with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra are not traditional ballet repertoire, which begs the question: If not expressly written for dance, what makes a piece of music appeal to choreographers and dancers?
Guest conductor Grant Cooper collaborated with North Carolina Dance Theatre Artistic Director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux for the concert’s program, sending him music that might stimulate movement. When Bonnefoux was considering Haydn, Cooper guessed that the minuet sections of his symphonies — traditional dance movements — would work well. But of the five movements that Bonnefoux chose from three separate Haydn symphonies, not one was a minuet.
Under Cooper’s baton, the CSO will accompany NCDT at 8:15 p.m. Saturday night in the Amphitheater.
In a Metropolitan Opera production of Wagner’s Lohengrin, the heroic tenor departed the stage on a magical swan after the final note of his aria. When the stage hands accidentally pulled the swan — a construction on a wooden trolley — offstage too early, the tenor was left center stage with nothing to sing. Looking to the audience, he said, “Anyone know what time’s the next swan?”
“The thing about opera is there’s so much going on, there’s so much that has to be coordinated,” said Vahn Armstrong, associate concertmaster of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, who related the story. “You just never know what’s going to happen.”
CSO musicians and guests will talk about performing for opera and ballet during today’s Brown Bag at 12:15 p.m. in Smith Wilkes Hall.
Conductor Grant Cooper pretended to walk an invisible tightrope in the middle of Bestor Plaza, demonstrating a metaphor for the concentration required of conductor, orchestra and dancers alike in realizing a ballet. Now imagine walking that same tightrope strung 100 feet above Niagara Falls, he said.
“There can’t be any possibility of someone thinking about something else,” Cooper said, “because it could be potentially fatal.”
Cooper will lead the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and the North Carolina Dance Theatre in residence at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater. It marks Cooper’s fifth time conducting ballet at Chautauqua, although he has been conducting at the Institution for more than 20 years.