George Balanchine’s “Concerto Barocco” – A brief history of the ballet.


Dancers of Birmingham Royal Ballet


Sara Mearns and Teresa Reichlen NYCB photo by Paul Kolnik

Written by Robyn Jutsum

September’s Cardio Ballet combos are inspired by George Balanchine’s 1941 ballet, Concerto Barocco, danced to Bach’s Concerto in D Minor for 2 Violins. The ballet was first designed as an exercise for the students of the School of American Ballet (SAB), the training school founded by Balanchine. The original cast included Marie-Jeanne, Mary Jane Shea, William Dollar. It was later performed by the American Ballet Caravan, an early rendition of the New York City Ballet (NYCB) established by Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein that toured through North and South America.

In 1948, the ballet had its NYCB premiere, becoming an instant Balanchine and NYCB classic piece of repertoire. NYCB’s program describes the ballet as “ the quintessential Balanchine ballet of its period, its manner entirely pure, its choreography no more, and no less, than an ideal response to its score, Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D Minor.”

The choreography is Neoclassical, athletic, and precise, with sweeping port de bras that often reflects the physical shape of violins, helping pair the movement and music together.

On the ballet, Balanchine himself stated, “The only preparation possible is a knowledge of its music [Johann Sebastian Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D minor], for Concerto Barocco has no ‘subject matter’ beyond the score to which it is danced and the particular dancers who execute it.”

You can see the progression towards the plotless ballet from our theme in August (Les Sylphides) to Concerto Barocco. There is no storyline, costuming* is minimal (the dancers are in practice clothes; simple white leotards, skirts for the women, shirt/tights for the men), and the piece is carried solely by the choreography and music.

*It’s important to note that when the ballet initially debuted, there were ornate, lavish costumes designed by Eugene Berman to reflect a distinctly baroque aesthetic. It wasn’t until 1951 that these costumes were replaced with practice clothes.


Laura Gilbreath, Lindsi Dec and PNB photo by Lindsay Thomas

This ballet is abstract, exceptionally musical, and a classic display of Balanchine’s work. On one of the distinct features, in addition to the simple costumes, of this ballet, Alastair Macaulay wrote, “For Balanchine, no position was more crucial than this fifth position: This interlocking of the legs is, as the critic Arlene Croce once wrote, the key with which to unlock space. Legs are fully turned out not just from the hip but from the body’s center; spines are erect; energy shines outward. With the music’s first note, the dancers are off.”

The ballet runs approx. 18 minutes with a cast of 11 dancers (including 2 soloists as the 2 violins, 1 man) in three movements: Vivace, Largo, and Allegro.

Learn more about the ballet with this behind-the-scenes look with NYCB’s Ashley Laracey.
AND, check out this analysis by Alastair Macaulay written for the NY Times.

Join us for a special “Class & Clips” double feature event THIS SUNDAY (9/12) to learn even more about the ballet and even try out some of the moves for yourself! Miami City Ballet’s Samantha Galler is teaching a Concerto Barocco-inspired 90-minute virtual ballet class as part of our Stars of Ballet Series at 4:30 pm ET. Immediately following class (6 pm ET), join us for September’s Sips & Clips virtual happy hour/viewing party. We’ll be watching clips from Concerto Barocco, discussing the history of the ballet, and Samantha Galler will be giving a special talk-back! Pull back the curtain on this Balanchine classic, get a good sweat in, then sit back and relax during Sips & Clips.


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