The Scarlatti Dances

Dancer Stephanie Greenwald. Photographer Steve Wilson.
Dancer Stephanie Greenwald. Photographer Steve Wilson.

Choreography: William Whitener
Music: Dominico Scarlatti/arranged Vincenzo Tommasini
Costume Design: Jean Q. Niedt

The Scarlatti Dances is Artistic Director William Whitener’s first creation for the State Ballet of Missouri. It is a ballet in six movements conceived as an elegant pastiche on the subject of manners and formal greetings. It is a “celebration of first encounters, cordiality, and romance.”

To establish the time and mood of an etiquette-bound salon, the first of six dances is set to Scarlatti’s harpsichord sonata No. 23 in A Major. A pas de deux presenting a pronounced display of manners between a man and a woman frames a procession of the full cast performing individual phrases gleaned from the later dances.

The second half of the pas de deux is performed in retrograde – a mirror reversal of the movements of the first half. A choreographic device more common to modern dance than ballet, retrograde is used here to emphasize the balanced give- and-take of civilized relationships.

The five dances that follow are set to a musical suite composed by Scarlatti, and arranged by Vincenzo Tommasini in 1916 for Leonide Massine’s ballet The Good Humoured Ladies. The second dance is an allegro movement in which a brief solo becomes a trio, then expands to a larger cast; the third is a meticulously-structured women’s dance; the fourth is a central duet marrying lyricism to urgency; the fifth is an energy-releasing sprightly dance with a male soloist; and the sixth is an allegro finale by the full cast.

In The Scarlatti Dances stately context of good manners and cordial exchange, Whitener injects subtle flashes of visual humor on the subject of male dancers’ relegation to the supporting roles: Three times in the central pas de deux the woman uses her male partner’s outstretched arm as though it is an inanimate studio barre on which she momentarily balances for a deep plie.

“One of my concerns is the degree of dancing potential for the male while he is partnering the woman. In classical ballet, dancing on pointe is a given. The woman maintains perfect balance on a tiny surface, or is off-balance in a sustained manner. My choreography often asks the woman to move continuously in and out of a balanced state, requiring the man to play an active role as counterbalance.”

Kansas City Ballet Premiere: April 25, 1997

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