George Balanchine's Who Cares?
Or, The Two Georges
George Balanchine's Who Cares? Or, the two Georges
(Today, one would wish for a Georgina too.)
Who Cares? is both, a ballet choreographed by George Balanchine (1904-1983), and a song, written in 1931 by George Gershwin (1989 - 1937) for the musical Of Thee I Sing, a satire about politics and love.
Balanchine and Gershwin collaborated in a Hollywood production in 1937, which was sadly cut short due to Gershwin's untimely death from a brain tumour at the age of.
33 years later, in 1970, Balanchine selected 17 of Gershwin's songs for Broadway musicals for his ballet Who Cares?
Gershwin's music is known for blending classical music with jazz, blues and popular music of its time, which made it an interesting choice for ballet music.
The ballet was premiered on 7th February 1970 in New York, in costumes but no décor. The scenery was added in November only.
Who Cares? creates an atmosphere that is distinct to New York City, its dynamic, modernism, social attitudes, as well as love. Lincoln Kirstein wrote: 'Balanchine used the songs not to evoke a particular era but as a basis for a dynamic that is uniquely American and, more specifically, evocative of New York City: Balanchine’s choreography brings out the exuberance of city life.'
adult amateur ballet dancers rehearsing Who Cares?
Sweet and Low-Down
Sweet and Low-Down is the second dance of the ballet and the one we studied in the Autumn Intensive 2021.
It starts slowly, with a melancholic feel before it gets crazy and sexy.
Gershwin's Foxtrott style music was written in 1926 for the musical Tip-Toes and you can watch its version at youtu.be/grRnyeL0LC8.
It is rather raunchy and seems to focus on the 'Low-Down' whilst the ballet attends more to the 'Sweet' aspect of the song title.
You may also love to listen to the recording of this virtuoso piano piece by Gershwin himself youtu.be/VqCn_NjV7gI
Imagine our feet working as expertly as Gershwin's fingers did playing this piece!
While learning the steps of Sweet and Low-Down I realised just how intelligent the choreography is and how it allows the music to be seen in the movements. Compare this to a classical Petipa choreography, those steps to regular counts of 4, 8, or 16 seem 'simple' (you know what I mean) and are easily remembered! The music and the free, jazzy movements make this piece a lot of fun to learn.
One thing remains the same, it always looks a lot easier than it is.
As modern as Balanchine's movement vocabulary was, he appreciated his traditional heritage. Do the steps of the slow-paced beginning remind you of a famous classical ballet?
Watch The New York City Ballet's version from 1983 (from 2:05 minutes) youtu.be/x9MPHeRwTY0
One main characteristic of the Balanchine technique is its speed. I once watched a performance of Swan Lake by, I believe it was the Pacific North-West Ballet, and everything was danced twice as fast.
The style differs further in the unconventional, asymmetrical lines of the arms and legs, its stretched out fingers, its use of counterbalances, and its more athletic dance quality.
This is important to remember in our Intensive in October 2021.