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.
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.
Written by Robyn Jutsum
Les Sylphides, not to be confused with La Sylphide (a Romantic two-act ballet choreographed by August Bournonville in 1836) is considered the first plotless, or abstract, ballet. It was choreographed by Michael Fokine and premiered in 1909 in Paris with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Set to music by Chopin, the original cast included ballet stars of the time, Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky. The Ballets Russes later performed in the ballet’s Stateside debut in 1916, a few short years after its world premiere.
The origins of Les Sylphides began 2 years before its world premiere with a 1907 debut of Chopiniana in St. Petersburg. This became the basis for Fokine’s reworked Les Sylphides.
Although in many ways a Romantic “white ballet” (in the same category as, for instance, Swan Lake), this ballet was a modern influence for 20th-century ballet. It was the first plotless, or abstract, ballet, performed in one act, where it is the “pure dance” that carries the piece, rather than an established storyline. To help provide a bit more context, the basic premise is a lone male (the ‘poet’) surrounded by woodland nymphs or, Sylphs, dancing in the moonlight.
In 1972, New York City Ballet premiered Chopiniana, a stripped down version of Les Sylphides, named after the ballet’s origin, and choreographed by Alexandra Danilova, after Michael Fokine. Unlike the original ballet, Danilova’s Chopiniana doesn’t have women in long Romantic tutus. They instead wear white leotards and simple white wrap skirts, the sleek and minimalist aesthetic similar to much of George Balanchine’s works for the company (For instance, Apollo, 1928 - women in white leotards and short white skater skirts with tights and Agon, 1952 - women in simple black leotards with tights). The original cast included Karin von Aroldingen, Susan Hendl, Kay Mazzo, and Peter Martins.
Chopiniana was overall a success. Anna Kisselgoff, a critic for the New York Times, wrote, “In presenting this new production of “Chopiniana”... the New York City Ballet staged the most sensational event of the dance season so far... There is no question that this reinterpretation... will be considered an outrage by those who keep in mind Fokine's intentions. Yet this production must be viewed almost as a completely new ballet. On its own terms, the concept behind it proved a daring success. There has been no rechoreography. The steps, like the text of a play, have been preserved. But as in a modern dress version of a classic play, the direction gives this text new meaning.”
According to this review, Lincoln Kirstein requested that this ballet “which he saw as “the last classic ballet” before Balanchine's “Serenade” (1934), be done for the City Ballet. It would… ‘show the continuity between Fokine's and Balanchine's classicism.’ ”
You can read the full review here.
Les Sylphides was not only influential in the early years of the 20th Century, but it is still today a commonly found piece in pre-professional and company repertoires. We are enjoying visiting this classic over the course of August. There are just 2 weeks left to join our Cardio Ballet classes inspired by the ballet before we shift gears into something new for September! Sign up online or through our free mobile app which is available for download to Android and IOS devices!
Check out the video below to learn the secret to those gorgeous swan arms and lean back and arms of ballerinas! This exercise is taught by The Ballet Spot's founder and owner, and professional dancer, Eliza S. Tollett.
The iconic swan arms from the ballet Swan Lake aren't just for ballerinas - anyone can practice swan arms to strengthen your back and arm muscles! Bonus - this exercise will improve posture and core strength as well. And you don't need any prior dance experience to give this a try....
Start by standing tall with your feet together. Touch the back of your wrists up high over your head, pull your elbows apart, sliding your hands behind your head, then push your hands apart with resistance, like you're moving through almond butter :)
Practice slowly at first, then speed up the tempo. But keep your form - shoulders away from your ears, abdominals engaged, and rib cage closed (so your back is not arched).
Practice daily to achieve a stronger, more graceful port de bras, and a strong and flexible upper back with improved posture. Enjoy!
Join Eliza for Cardio Ballet on Mondays and Fridays at 10:30am ET / 7:30am PT and Total Body Barre Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:30am ET / 7:30am PT and Saturdays at 1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT on Zoom!
You can also join Eliza for in-person classes in Santa Monica, CA: Mondays at 7:30am at 2501 Wilshire Blvd, and Fridays at 7:30am on the beach at Dorothy Green Park.
Did you know that abs are for more than just looks? It's important to have SUPER strong abdominals to support your movement no matter what your exercise of choice! And crunches are SO 2015.... The most effective exercises for abs include movements that engage multiple muscle groups and lengthen and strengthen at the same time.
Here are some easy but powerful exercises for strong abs and core taught by our instructor and pro dancer Colby!
Join Colby for Total Body Barre Express on Fridays at Noon ET / 9:00am PT on Zoom.
Properly held turnout is important for ballet not just because it looks good - it's so important to learn to use the correct muscles so your hips, knees, and ankles stay healthy and strong!
This is an easy and effective exercise taught by Ballet Spot Instructor and Marketing Manager, Robyn, that you can do at home to improve the mobility and strength of your hip rotation. Practice this exercise standing up as well as on the mat. Make sure to lift your abdominals to engage your core and hold your back strong. Keep the front of your working hip relaxed and use your hamstring and glutes to place your retiré position. The leg your standing on should be working SUPER hard to maintain correct placement throughout.
Start with 8 repetitions and work your way up to 16! Make sure to practice on both sides.
Join Robyn for Total Body Barre on Mondays at 5:30pm ET / 2:30pm PT and Sundays at 1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT, as well as Cardio Ballet on Thursdays at 8:00am ET on Zoom.
Here's a basic exercise that dancers of any level can do at home to practice placement for ballet taught by our Beginner Ballet and Cardio Ballet instructor and pro dancer Jennifer.
Start with one hand on the barre, standing tall, find your natural rotation into first position. As you plié and relevé keep your pelvis in neutral and your shoulders right over your hips.
As instructors, we typically see shoulders forward and hips back in plié and then students often throw their shoulders back as they relevé, which causes them to fall backward. Make sure you are lifting your abdominals and engaging your back throughout the plié and the relevé to keep your spine in proper alignment. It should feel like you could balance a cup of coffee on your head the whole time!
It's important to use the rotator muscles in the back of your thighs and your inner thighs to turn your knees out over your toes as you plié. This will ensure proper turnout and safe joints and also ensure that your hips are going straight down in plié and not tucking or arching Practice this exercise daily to feel stronger and better placed in your ballet classes!
Join Jennifer for Beginner Ballet on Zoom & in Central Park on Mondays at 6:30pm ET / 3:30pm PT and Cardio Ballet In-Studio and on Zoom Saturdays at 11:00am ET / 8:00am PT.
Tight hips are super common. Tightness is caused by muscle imbalances from things like sitting at a desk, driving for a long time, or a workout. It's important to keep your hips stretched out to relieve lower back pain and pressure on your knees.
Follow along with professional dancer and Ballet Spot instructor Ali in the video below to learn a quick and easy way to loosen your hips. Try this stretching routine during a break at work or before or after a workout. Hopefully this will help you to feel freer and more open as you move throughout your day. You may even feel relief from chronic low back or knee pain!
Join Ali for Ballet Strength on Sundays at 11:00am ET / 8:00am PT and Ballet Strength & Stretch on Thursdays at 6:00pm ET / 3 :00pm PT on Zoom.
Ballerinas need SUPER strong ankles (and everyone knows dancer calves are amazing!) so here are some quick exercises that you can do at home to improve your ankle and calf strength taught by pro dancer and Ballet Spot instructor, Emma.
Whether you do ballet or just want dancer calves, these exercises are a great way to sculpt your lower leg and reduce the risk of injury. If you are a dancer - and especially if you dance on pointe - definitely make these exercises part of your daily routine to improve your technique and your endurance.
Make sure to practice all of these exercises on both sides!
Join Emma for Pilates Mat on Wednesdays at 6:30pm ET / 3:30pm PT and Ballet Strength at 5:30pm ET / 2:30pm PT on Zoom!
Written by Robyn Jutsum
What better way to celebrate July than with some tried and true red, white, and blue courtesy of George Balanchine? July’s theme is Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes with the music of John Philip Sousa, orchestrated by Hershy Kay. Stars and Stripes premiered on January 17th, 1958 at the City Center of Music and Drama (New York City Center) in Manhattan. The original cast included Allegra Kent, Diana Adams, Melissa Hayden, Robert Barnett, and Jacques d'Amboise.
The ballet is divided into five sections or “campaigns” assigned different musical excerpts from Sousa’s marches; “Corcoran Cadets,” “Thunder and Gladiator,” “Rifle Regiment,” “Liberty Bell,” “El Capitan,” and “Stars and Stripes Forever.” The first two campaigns are danced by all women followed by an all-men campaign, “Thunder and Gladiator.” The “Liberty Bell” and “El Capitan” are paired as the fourth campaign, a pas de deux complete with their independent variations and coda followed by the grand finale, “Stars and Stripes Forever.” Each grouping of dancers is considered a different “regiment” with costumes to distinguish which regiment (blue vs. red) they’re in. The finale includes elaborate costuming and sets, complete with a giant American flag as the backdrop. It is like watching a fireworks display on the Fourth of July; jubilant and ornate.
In total, this ballet has 41 cast members, 27 women and 14 men. With such a large cast, this ballet is not as frequently performed as it once was. Oftentimes the fourth campaign (the pas de deux) is performed as a showcase piece in mixed rep bills or special events (i.e. regional galas), and excerpts from the ballet are more commonly performed in professional academies that have a large pool of young dancers. Though performed in academic settings, the choreography is quite challenging, and when performed, you need a cast with solid stamina who can produce clean petit allegro and strong grand allegro work.
Stars and Stripes is dedicated to the memory of former mayor of New York City (1934-1945) and founder of the City Center of Music and Drama, Fiorello H. LaGuardia. It has been performed on many special occasions including tributes to presidents like JFK and Nelson Rockefeller’s inauguration as governor.
This ballet represents George Balanchine’s sense of patriotism and perception of the U.S. It is seen as a tribute to everything Balanchine felt the States represented. Balanchine immigrated here in 1934, and he planted his artistic roots to such a degree that he is often credited with establishing the American style of ballet technique. His School of American Ballet and of course, New York City Ballet, are highly revered staples of the dance world in the U.S, and beyond.
In an article for The Washington Post, former Artistic Director of the Washington Ballet and current Artistic Director of Hong Kong Ballet, Septime Webre, shared, “Balanchine loved America as, I think, only an immigrant can — with an appreciation for its drive and ingenuity...His ballets are a metaphor for American drive and energy. The pirouettes are much faster, the legs are higher, the technique is more virtuosic.”
Suzanne Farrell, muse of Balanchine and former member of New York City Ballet wrote in a blog post for The Kennedy Center, “Stars and Stripes is an example of how orderly and engaging Mr. B—a Russian émigré and proud American—made politics and patriotism. His choreography reflects pure reverence and respect for our country interspersed with light doses of humor, and the pride of belonging and freedom we all share.”
The overwhelming sense of patriotism has been analyzed not just as pure adoration for his adopted homeland. Some have looked through the lens of the era the ballet premiered, comparing it to the emotions and political opinions of the early days of the Cold War following World War II. The ballet was arguably used as propaganda to shine a positive light on the U.S. The United States State Department even set the wheels in motion for the ballet to tour abroad.
It has played a role in historic moments in political and social culture. For instance, in 1981, at the end of the Iranian Hostage Crisis, New York City Ballet performed an encore of the fifth campaign “Stars and Stripes Forever” at the New York State Theater. The dancers wore yellow ribbons in this surprise encore performance. In 1984, Dance Theatre of Harlem also performed “Stars and Stripes Forever,” at the closing ceremony for the Olympics in Los Angeles. Watch footage from their performance here. In 1996, Robert LaFosse choreographed a parody inspired by Balanchine’s original ballet for Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Watch this 2018 rehearsal from the “Trocks” featuring Carlos Caballero and Roberto Vega. And the pas de deux is featured in Center Stage, featuring Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel.
In this way, Stars and Stripes, a plotless ballet, just pure dancing, carries a narrative from start to finish, and it is consistently a crowd pleaser!
We are looking forward to dancing through combos inspired by Balanchine’s choreography, and if you are seeking if more Balanchine influence, don’t miss our next *Stars of Ballet* class with New York City Ballet principal dancer, Daniel Ulbricht, on Sunday, July 11th at 4:30 pm ET! Learn more about Daniel and his Neoclassical Ballet Class on the 11th here.
Wondering how ballerinas learn to balance on their toes? It's all about practicing the fundamentals with correct placement and technique!
Watch the quick video below for tips to balance better in ballet taught by professional dancer and Ballet Spot instructor Liz. Learn to access your strongest and best natural turnout and stand with your best posture to maintain your center when on relevé. Practice this daily, and practice in different ballet positions to feel more confident in ballet class and in life!
Remember to have something nearby to hold onto to assist, and remember that balance becomes more challenging with age, which means that it becomes even more important to practice over time. Be patient with yourself and always remember progress is more important that perfection. Ballerinas practice balancing on their toes up to 8 hours a day - learning to balance takes time, and with patience, everyone's balance can improve.
Join Liz for Stretch Tuesdays at 6:30pm ET / 3:30pm PT, as well as Ballet Breathe & Flow Saturdays at 2:00pm ET / 11:00am PT all on Zoom!
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