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4/3/2014 - Directors' Insights - Tarantella

Inside Ballet Chicago's On Pointe Program
May 17 & 18, 2014 at The Harris Theater

A "Director's Insights" Essay Series
Tarantella - Fireworks abound

Many years ago (1968), in his first summer away from home, a young mid-western boy in his fifth year of ballet training saw a series of compelling performances that helped determine the course of his career. The company was the New York City Ballet in its annual season at Saratoga Springs, and its performances featured many of the era's great artists including Suzanne Farrell, Patricia McBride, Violette Verdy, Jacques d'Amboise, Peter Martins, and Edward Villella, among others.

The many formative first impressions this young lad took away from that summer included an electrifying performance of George Balanchine's Tarantella danced by Patricia McBride and Edward Villella, for whom Balanchine had created the work. Seeing these two great artists explode onto the stage with their boundless energy, dazzling technical prowess, and enveloping, radiant warmth was utterly unforgettable, as was Louis Moreau Gottschalk's lively music. Imagine then my excitement over the next several years when, as a student at Balanchine's School of American Ballet, I was among those assigned to perform Tarantella for young audiences at public schools throughout the Big Apple! Later, for independent professional concert tours, Edward Villella himself coached me in the work. In September 1988, for my last classical performance onstage in a Ballet Chicago performance program we called "See the Music, Hear the Dance," I chose Tarantella as the work to dance. Thus it is with special pleasure that we bring Tarantella to the Harris Theater stage for the first time.

Artistic Director Daniel Duell and students of the Ballet Chicago Studio Company in rehearsal for Tarantella
Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust

The brilliance and exceptional speed of the musical form called "tarantella" stem from an ancient gypsy legend in which a person, once bitten by a poisonous spider (tarantula) must "dance out the poison" to save his or her life (which explains why there is no such thing as a slow or leisurely "tarantella"). Below are quotes from New York City Ballet's brief description of the music and choreography for Balanchine's Tarantella.

"This sprightly music, despite its Italian air, was composed by Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869), a New Orleans-born composer and pianist who made a large impact in his brief life. The audacity and wit of his works, along with his brilliance at the keyboard, made his compositions immensely popular... Gottschalk was a true American original, and his achievements had a great impact on composers and performers who followed. Balanchine admired this particular composition and choreographed a pas de deux for Patricia McBride and Edward Villella - two virtuosic dancers - in 1964."
In his Complete Stories of the Great Ballets, Balanchine wrote of the music, "It is a dazzling display piece, full of speed and high spirits. So, I hope, is the dance, which is 'Neopolitan' if you like and 'demi-caractère.' The costumes are inspired by Italy, anyhow, and there are tambourines."

Ballet Chicago Studio Company members rehearsing Tarantella.
Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust

Prepare to be dazzled and inspired by our performances of Tarantella on May 17th & 18th at the Harris Theater, and by the other four works in our diverse and exciting On Pointe program! Visit balletchicago.org or harristheaterchicago.org for more information and tickets.

Keep an eye out for my next blog, which will reveal treasures about Balanchine's classical masterpiece, Divertimento No. 15!


Dan Duell
Artistic Director

3/27/2014 - Directors' Insights - Valse Fantaisie

Inside Ballet Chicago's On Pointe Program
May 17 & 18, 2014 at The Harris Theater

A "Directors' Insights" Essay Series
Valse Fantaisie - Brief and Brilliant

Small gems can shine with exceptional radiance. Such is the case with George Balanchine's Valse Fantaisie, a short work that has captivated audiences since its first performances in 1953. Its revival by Balanchine in 1967 brought Valse Fantaisie to its final form, which the Ballet Chicago Studio Company will perform at the Harris Theater this coming May 17 and 18, nestled amid the four beautiful other ballets that comprise our On Pointe program.

Swift-moving and classically elegant, Valse Fantaisie features a lead couple accompanied by a quartet of girls, dancing a filigree of intricate steps and patterns. Its technical demands require fleetness, strength, clarity, and stamina, all delivered with an air of insouciant ease. Set to the soaring melodies and urgent pulse of Glinka's "Valse Fantaisie in B Minor" Valse Fantaisie brings a burst of buoyancy to an evening of dance.

Ballet Chicago Studio Company members in Ballet Chicago's production of Valse Fantaisie at The Athenaeum Theatre
Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust
Photos by Mark Niekrasz

In her May 1, 1985 New York Times review, the world-renowned dance critic Anna Kisselgoff wrote:

"Set to Glinka's music of the same name, Valse Fantaisie should be seen chiefly the way it presents itself - a windswept pattern of pure dancing, attuned to the joyfulness of its waltz rhythms. One man and five women enter and exit repeatedly. The ballet is short but wafts in a certain perfume.

Even in this sub-Romantic trifle, Balanchine offers a highly distilled treatment of one of his perennial themes. Here again, as in Apollo or Who Cares?, a solitary male has not one but several women to choose from. Another choreographer might have paired off the other women with partners, but Balanchine catches us off balance here. The man dances with a ballerina but he also dances in a frame of four other women. They are a miniatue corps and an amplification of an ideal female. At the end, there is no lasting encounter. Everything vanishes - the soloists are swept off stage and the two principals leap out in opposite directions.

Balanchine used the same Glinka music in 1953 before he returned to it again in 1967 for the current version. It is easy to see how the score's dance pulse attracted him, and it is even more fascinating to see how, within classical ballet's encyclopedic idiom, he concentrated on a limited number of movement motifs and spun intricate variations upon them. Valse Fantaisie is a ballet dotted with leaps and leg beats, with rising on pointe and coming down, and with the step known as pas de chat."

My own experience of Valse Fantaisie could not have been more opportune - early in my career Mr. Balanchine cast and personally coached me in the work, along with the brilliant ballerina Judith Fugate. Judith and I performed it for years subsequently with the New York City Balet, and Mr. B's choreography and coaching remain permanently ingrained in my mind and heart and body.

Valse Fantaisie in a recent NYCB cast
Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust
Photo by Paul Kolnik

This direct experience is the guiding force behind the Ballet Chicago Studio Company as they prepare for their performances of Valse Fantaisie at the Harris Theater on May 17 and 18. Our young artists are rehearsing it diligently in the studio, and I must say that watching them grow into this work is an exciting and deeply rewarding process. Their performances of Valse Fantaisie are certain to thrill!

Watch for my essays on the four other ballets in upcoming "Directors' Insights" essays - the next one will be a treatise on Balanchine's vibrant audience favorite, Tarantella.

Meanwhile, put May 17 and 18 on your calendar for our diverse and exciting On Pointe performances!

Visit balletchicago.org or harristheaterchicago.org for more information and tickets.


Dan Duell
Artistic Director


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