When ballet connoisseurs start talking about the esthetics of their subject, the average citizen beats his way out of the pink-tinted fog to the nearest exit. George Balanchine, the most effective maker of ballets now living, has a refreshingly realistic way of getting down to esthetic fundamentals.
"Ballet is important and significantyes," he says. "But first of all, it is a pleasure. No one would enjoy watching a group of dancers jump about the stage aimlessly, no matter how well they jumped. After all, a pig can jumpbut who wants to see a pig jump?" Nobody has a better right than George Balanchine to decide what ballet audiences do and do not want to see. As head man of the young (five years old) New York City Ballet Company, he has enticed record-breaking numbers of watchers into theaters on two continents; as a choreographer, he has ballets in the repertories of every top company in the Western world. Last week, on a night of Eskimo weather, his company opened its winter season in Manhattan. Taxis were hard to find; the swirling snow was ankle-deep even in Times Square. But there were few empty seats at the ballet's large (capacity: 3,010) City Center theater. The place was packed by an audience that buzzed and chattered with anticipation. They had come to see the most discussed ballet company in the world, built almost 100% on home-grown U.S. talent by Artistic Director Balanchine. It was the same company that last winter performed for an unprecedented twelve weeks in Manhattan, that routed out some 4,000 Angelenos a night for a month last summer. It had already made three visits to Europe, leaving such cities as London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Rome, Milan and Barcelona with the notion that the gadget-happy Americans might have a culture bump, after all.
Working Bodies. Most of the repertory that the New York company carries in its theater trunks is something new and different in ballet. It is danced in modern "classic" style, with clean-cut silhouettes and unwasted movements. It often dares to use "classical" scores by Mozart and Bach. But it avoids telling such long-winded old "classical" ballet tales as the beautiful mechanical doll (Coppelia), the bewitched princess (Sleeping Beauty), or the peasant girl in love with the prince (Giselle). Though it is sometimes called "American" ballet, it pays almost no attention to "Americana." The repertory leans heavily (about 60%) on the choreographic work of Balanchine himself. A typical program might contain his Symphony in C, set to Bizet and danced in simple costumes against a plain blue backdrop; his showy Pas de Trois (music from Minkus' Don Quixote) as a sop to oldtimers who like to watch three top soloists show off their grace and strength; his grotesque fantasy of insect life, Metamorphoses (music by Hindemith). and perhaps one of popular Choreographer Jerome Robbins' impudent romps such as Pied Piper (music by Copland).
The Balanchine style dispenses with elaborate sets. It concentrates on the rhythmic movement of trained bodies against plain backgroundswhether the dancers are outfitted in feathers and fluffy skirts or simply in black bathing suits.