George Balanchine’s “Western Symphony” – A brief history.

Written by Robyn Jutsum

American folk tunes arranged by Hershy Kay, cowboy hats, and Balanchine-inspired choreography – You can get all of that and more from this month’s Cardio Ballet theme, Western Symphony!

Western Symphony, choreographed by George Balanchine, premiered at City Center of Drama and Music in New York City on September 7th, 1954 with New York City Ballet. The original cast included Tanaquil Le Clercq and Jacques d’Amboise. Taking place on the streets of the Old West, this ballet includes 36 dancers and runs for approximately 28 minutes, split into 4 sections:  Allegro, Adagio, Scherzo, and Rondo.

Although reflective of folk dance, the choreography is very technical, and you’ll soon recognize Balanchine’s quick footwork and attention to formation and musicality. There’s also a playfulness noted by dancers and audience members alike.

When the ballet first premiered, the company was still growing and raising funds, and the dancers performed in their rehearsal/studio clothes rather than a full costume. It wasn’t until a year later that they would have costumes designed by Barbara Karinska, the resident costume designer for the company at that time.

Balanchine had a pattern of creating works based on American ideals and rhythms. In this particular ballet, popular American melodies were incorporated, including “Red River Valley,” “Rye Whiskey,” and “The Girl I Left Behind Me.”

The best form of insight into this particular Balanchine ballet is to hear from the dancers who have danced it. NYCB’s Anatomy of a Dancer series featured Roman Meija, who gives a play-by-play of footage of his own performance in the ballet. Watch the full feature here.
Every month, we pick a different ballet to use as inspiration for our team’s Cardio Ballet combos. Sign up for our ballet and fitness classes!

1965 Western Symphony (NYCB performance which includes 3rd Movement with Gloria Govrin, one of my teachers/coaches growing up!) and then Miami City Ballet (shared in 2018, so more recent filming of it)



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