There’s one thing you can’t really have ballet without. Music.
Sure, there are times in ballets (especially more modern works) where there is a choreography section done to silence, but I can’t imagine a full-length three-act narrative ballet without a score, can you? Part of the magic for me (and what immediately identifies great dancers) is when choreography is danced not just alongside the music but with the music.
Thinking about this, I started to create a playlist of my favourite bits of music from ballets, calling it (the rather unimaginative name) “A Night at the Ballet”. But I am well aware of the fact that I haven’t seen nearly enough ballets for it to be even close to comprehensive, so I decided to get some help from my Twitter and Facebook followers! After a deluge of responses (helped along by a retweet by the Royal Opera House) my playlist started to take shape.
It was really interesting to see people’s choices, and even more so to see their reasons. Some picked pieces because of the music itself, whereas others seems to base their choices on the linked choreography too. There’s a load of replies on my Facebook Page if you want to have a read. I tried to keep my playlist from getting too big, so some tracks didn’t make it. But I’ve tried to include at least one choice from everyone!
So here it is (by the magic of Spotify)…
There isn’t really an order to the playlist, and it keeps growing and growing! I’ve opened with Serenade (in my opinion the most beautiful ballet music ever) and followed this by some fairly well-known pieces that were suggested (often multiple times): we’ve got a bit of Swan Lake, Don Quixote, Dying Swan and so on. As the playlist goes on you’ll find a few more ‘obscure’ pieces: bits of Prince of the Pagodas, Daphnis et Chloë, Danses à Grande Vitesse and others.
And then I’ve finished by cheating slightly… Sorry! The final track is the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony. I’ve never seen a ballet choreographed to this symphony (although I think Peter Martin’s used it for a piece at NYCB in the early 80′s), but I’ve included it because whenever I hear it I think there should be choreography set to it. It is so emotive and passionate! In fact, I’ve already been working (in my head) on a Pas de Quatre to the final 4 minutes or so of this movement. I’ve applied to a summer intensive (keeping my fingers and fifth position crossed!) which includes a chance to work on choreography so I’m hoping to maybe expand it there (and who knows, if it goes well I could maybe get the ballet group in Bristol to perform it!).
Talking of choreography, when you listen to ballet music do you ‘see’ the choreography? I personally find it hard to disassociate memorable choreography with music – for example the transition from “Romeo’s Variation” to “Love Dance” in R&J balcony scene (that gorgeous moment when Juliet finishes her pirouette with a grande rond de jambe into arabesque). I also didn’t particularly enjoy listening to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring until I saw ENB perform MacMillan’s amazing choreography to it. Now the thought of their dancing makes me enjoy the music so much more.
But it doesn’t have to be set choreography: I talked to a friend at ballet this week who said whenever she listens to classical music she imagines dancing to it but not specific steps (more the general ‘lilt’ to the piece). Whereas her husband (a musician) listens more to little details in the piece, or a specific instrument in orchestral works.
So do you listen to music differently after seeing a ballet to it? What’s your favourite piece of ballet music? Did I miss it off my playlist? Let me know in the comments below!
Until next time, keep dancing!
P.S. This whole post was inspired by me stumbling across this video. It’s of an elderly man in a care home who shows a remarkable increase in response after listening to his favourite music. It reminded me how important music can be. And on a related note, our ballet group performed at a local brain injury rehabilitation unit and it was amazing to see the reactions from the patients to the dance. Last year when the group had performed there, one of the patients had smiled for the first time in a year!