A Festival of Ballets to American Music
To celebrate its 40th anniversary, New York City Ballet presented an ambitious two-week Festival of American Music. The events of the Festival, while unique, also served as a good barometer of the current atmosphere for music and dance collaborations in the United States.
Musically, there was a spectrum of styles ranging from the romantic lushness of Samuel Barber to the urban suaveness of George Gershwin and Duke Ellington. There were craggy serialist scores and mesmerizing minimalist ones. There was a variety of instrumental groupings, ranging from the delicacy of solo art songs with piano to the robust enthusiasm of Ray Charles and his jazz band onstage for the grand finale. 1
The festival was originally conceived by New York City Ballet's co-ballet master, Peter Martins. Prior to the events, Mr. Martins told Dance Magazine:
I spent more than two years researching American music before any active work on the festival was begun. I called publishers, talked to musicians, asked everywhere, and then listened and listened and listened. Obviously, the festival is not going to be comprehensive. . . . But I hope that [it] will help contribute to an awareness of American music, because I think that American music is underplayed in America--undervalued. It's the old story. Europeans are fascinated by Americans, and Americans love everything that's foreign, especially in the ballet world. Neither side can afford to be close-minded that way. American music should be honored and celebrated. 2
For theater-goers who tried to see everything, the festival soon became mind- boggling. But with all the emphasis on the music--including the attractive orchestral overtures which were played while a commissioned art poster was projected on the screen--it was intriguing to listen to the reactions of audience members.