Starting this Thursday, May 23rd ad going until Saturday, May 25th at The Manitoba Theatre for Young People, the students of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Professional Division will be putting on their annual  Spotlight performances.

The students that make up the RWB Professional Division are up and coming professional ballet dancers who audition to get into the program. Upon acceptance into the program, they study dance intensively throughout the year, incorporating their regular school studies around there ballet classes. The aim of the program is to nurture and foster excellence in all areas of dance so that the students can successfully achieve a career in ballet.

This year the Spotlight is on Alexander Glazunov’s Ballet Raymonda, with chorography done by the legendary ballet master Marius Petipa. As we here at Classic 107 look forward to these spectacular performances prepared by the RWB Professional Division, we will feature ballet music in the 1pm hour all this week.

Monday, May 20: Igor Stravinsky The Firebird (1910)

Commissioned by the great ballet impresario Sergey Diagilev and his Ballet Russes, Stravinsky started work on the The Firebird in 1909. Stravinsky was actually Diagilev’s second choice, he had originally commissioned Anatoly Liadov to write the score, but Liadov procrastinated so much, that Diagilev got fed up and approached Stravinsky instead. Diagilev had become acquainted with Stravinsky through his three minute piece for orchestra called Fireworks.

The Ballet was premiered in 1910 at the Paris Opera, with choreography created by Michel Folkine. It proved to be a massive success, making the 28 year old Stravinsky a star throughout Europe. This collaboration between Stravinsky and Diagilev would go on to create three masterpieces in 20th century dance and music; The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring. (1913)

When the premiere of the Firebird took place the following synopsis was published in the Paris opera Program:

The Firebird, one of the most popular Russian folktales, begins when Ivan Tsarevich, the crown prince, sees a marvellous bird of flaming gold. He pursues but fails to catch it, and only succeeds in snatching one of its glittering feathers. The chase has taken him into the domain of Kastchei the Immortal, demi-god of evil, who attempts to capture him and, as he has already done with many valiant knights and princes, turns him to stone. Kastchei’s daughters and thirteen princesses intercede for Ivan Tsarevich and try to save him. Finally the Firebird appears, breaks Kastchei’s spell, and rescues everyone. Ivan Tsarevich and the knights, delivered from their fate, seize the golden apples from Kastchei’s garden.

Tuesday, May 21: Darius Milhaud Le Boeuf sur le toit (1919)

Written originally as incidental music for a Charlie Chaplin silent film, Le boeuf sur le toit (The Ox on the Roof) would eventually be turned into a surrealist ballet staged by Jean Cocteau.

Le Beouf sur le toit is infused with Latin American rhythms. Milhaud worked as a secretary to Paul Claudel at the French legation in Rio de Janeiro. It was in Brazil that Milhaud would become enamoured with Brazilians popular music. Elements of this music would be heard in much of Milhaud’s compositions from the 1920s.

The premiere of the ballet took place in 1920 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées to great success.

The Ballet does not really have a plot line. It was described as being “pleasantly devoid of meaning.” It takes place in a seedy American prohibition bar. The characters consist of Black Boxer, the Barman, the Jockey, the Black Billiard Player, the Red-Haired Lady, the Décolletée Lady, the Man in Evening Dress, and the Policeman. All wear cardboard heads two or three times life-size.

The synopsis is completely ridiculous and nonsensical:

The boxer finds his cigar drawing badly and the barman cuts it for him with a pistol shot. The bullet strikes down the billiard player. The jockey takes exception to the boxer's overtures to the red-headed lady and knocks him down, before joining the female customers in a tango. A police whistle is heard; the barman hides all evidence of alcohol and disguises the room as a milk-bar. A large policeman enters, smells the breath of the customers and dances a genial solo. The barman presses a button: an electric fan comes down from the ceiling and cuts off the policeman's head. He falls dead, and one of the female customers dances with his severed head, in a parody of Salome The barman replaces the head on the body of the policeman, who revives, but is confronted with a huge bill, several metres long, for everybody’s drinks. Despite the liveliness of the music, the characters dance in slow motion, "like deep-sea divers moving against the current", in Harding's phrase.

The ballet would give its name to the well-known Parisian bar of the same name that would open in 1921. Le Beouf sur le toit would become a popular hangout for Cocteau and his friends, including Milhaud.

Wednesday, May 22: Act 1 from Adolphe Adam’e Giselle (1841)

Considered to be one of the masterpieces of classical ballet, Adolphe Adam’s Giselle with choreography Jean Coralli and Jules Perot has established itself as a cornerstone of the ballet repertoire.

It was premiered at the Paris Opera Ballet in 1841 with the Italian Ballerina Carlotta Grisi, dancing the role of Giselle. It was a triumph of a production. Soon after it was premiered it would see performances in Europe, Russia and the United States.

Click here for Synopsis

Thursday, May 23: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Suite from Sleeping Beauty (1889)

The second of Tchaikovsky’s three great Ballets, Sleeping Beauty is based on a scenario by The Director of the Imperial Theatre in Russia Ivan Alexandrovich Vsevolozhsky. His scenario was based on Charles Perrault’s fairy tale Sleeping Beauty. The choreography was done by the great ballet master Marius Petipa, who was the Master and principal choreographer of the Imperial Ballet in Saint Petersburg which is now known as the Marinsky Theatre.

Although based on Sleeping Beauty, Vsevolozhsky would incorporate other characters from Perrault’s other fairy tales in the plot line, such as Puss in Boots, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Bluebird, and Little Tom Thumb.

Since its premiere in 1890, Sleeping Beauty has not only remained one of the most popular ballets of all time, but also one of Tchaikovsky’s most celebrated compositions.

Click here for Synopsis

Friday, May 24: Alexander Glazunov Suite from Raymonda (1898)

Glazunov’s grand Ballet Raymonda was based on a libretto by novelist Lydia Pashkova. She submitted the scenario to the Director of the Imperial ballet in Saint Petersburg Ivan Alexandrovich Vsevolozhsky. Glazunov would be approached to write the score in 1895, and the choreography was once again created by Marius Petipa.

The ballet was a huge success, first being performed by the Imperial Theatre Ballet in 1898. Today it is often performed by ballet companies around the world. A notable excerpt that is often performed on its own is the Pas Classique hongrois from Act Three.

Click here for Synopsis.