Western Symphony

Dancers Jeanne Elser and Carter Alexander.
Dancers Jeanne Elser and Carter Alexander.

Choreography: George Balanchine
Music: Hershey Kay
First performed: New York City Ballet, September 1954
First performed by KCB: February 1996

George Balanchine said of his ballet, Western Symphony, “My idea in this ballet was to make a formal work that would derive its flavour from the informal American West, a ballet that would move within the framework of the classical school, but in a new atmosphere…I wanted to do a ballet without a story in an unmistakably native American idiom.”

Set on a rugged Old West street populated by cowboys and dance hall girls, Western Symphony nevertheless is very much a classical work, just as Balanchine had intended. The steps he uses from the traditional ballet vocabulary allude to the steps, formations and gestures of American folk dancing. The ballet is a striking example of Balanchine’s fascination with American themes.

The lively and familiar score consists of classic American folk songs, including “Red River Valley,” “Old Taylor,” “Rye Whiskey,” “Good Night Ladies,” “Oh Dem Golden Slippers,” and “The Girl I Left Behind Me.” Supporting Balanchine’s idea of developing a classical work, the score by Hershey Kay follows a standard symphonic form.

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