Start the New Year with Serenade

If you’re in New York or San Francisco this month, you can see the much loved ballet Serenade. This one-act ballet, made by Balanchine in 1934, treads the line between abstract and narrative with sublime choreography.

When New York City Ballet opens its Winter Season on January 20, and when San Francisco Ballet opens its first program of the year on January 27, Serenade will be on the bill. If you can, go see it. Whether it’s your first time or tenth time, you are likely to go into raptures over it.

Recently the experience of watching my favorite Balanchine ballet has deepened. While reading Elizabeth Kendall’s brilliant book, Balanchine and the Lost Muse, I really connected with her hunch about the effect that the tragic death of his dancing partner, the 20-year-old Lidia Ivanova, had on his young imagination. Kendall felt that in some way he remained haunted by her mysterious drowning and that feeling showed up in his choreography.

Even if you haven’t read Kendall’s book, this ballet has so many choreographic riches within the flow of Tchaikovsky’s music that you can see it many times and always find something new. OK, that’s a cliché, but what happens is that your favorite parts get imprinted in your mind’s eye while you also absorb the poetry of the transitions you never noticed before. It’s like having a comfy old quilt that, every time you look at another corner of it, reveals how beautifully one patch adjoins another.

Because Serenade is in the rep of so many companies (Pacific Northwest Ballet, Ballet San Jose, Boston Ballet, Miami City Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, the Mariinsky), Dance Magazine marked the 75th anniversary of the ballet’s premiere with this feature story in 2010: “The Secrets of Serenade.” In it, dancer-turned-writer Lisa Rinehart talks about the interior joy and spirituality of the ballet.

Keeping with the spirituality, I’ll quote Wendy Whelan, who spoke on a panel at SAB that year. Talking about performing the ballet as a student, she said, “You felt the sacredness of the most simple things that we did together.” 

We will all see and/or do lots of new dances this year. But let’s take the time, before the onslaught of dance activity of 2015, to meditate on the sacredness of the simple things that make up a transcendant, enduring ballet.

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