Balanchine on Instagram
Regan Byrne Palmer
Music combined with movement has soothed me since I was a child attending dance events at the Northrop Auditorium in Minneapolis with my mother. She used her free passes as a journalist to let me tag along when I was much too young for such luxury.
Recently, American Ballet Theatre filmed an Instagram live via Zoom, with members of the corps de ballet and orchestra in their homes, playing and dancing for all to see. They performed the beginning of Balanchine’s Serenade with music by Tchaikovsky. Serenade was the first original ballet that Balanchine created in America, which I’ve had the pleasure of seeing both live and recorded over many years as a ballet fan.
The first draw of the strings in this piece of music lowers my blood pressure, and even through this format it did not disappoint. In the now-familiar way of connecting with a far-flung community during this crisis, the musicians and dancers popped up one by one, giving us all a glimpse into their home offices, bedrooms, and backyards until the screen filled with artists. Tears welled in my eyes for a moment until I blinked them away and smiled. I didn’t want to miss a second.
The ballet is slow to build, with simple movements, reminiscent of the first moments of a ballet class. I once believed the complicated geometry and ethereal tulle costumes were what gave the choreography its genius. The artists—without the benefit of any of the artifice of a production, without costumes, lighting, sound engineering, even while performing alone—shot down that theory right away. At the beginning of the dance, the dancers look up to their raised flexed hand. The dancers’ arms are all up in the air away from their bodies at the same angle. They just stand there as the orchestra layers notes, one on top of the other. It is peaceful and elegant and spiritual. I sighed when I finished watching and went on with my day much happier.
Hours later when I started to worry about the future, I remembered those artists, at home like I am, doing their work, sending it out into the world. They gave me hope.
Regan Byrne Palmer is a writer living in Minneapolis.
George Balanchine was born January 22, 1904 (died 1983). First performed in 1934, Serenade was his first ballet created in America and stands today as one of New York City Ballet’s signature pieces.