Balanchine’s Ballade Ballade

Merrill Ashley, Ib Andersen – Balanchine’s Ballade, illustration courtesy of The George Balanchine Trust

Balanchine, Russian as the Ballet Russe,
defected with friends yearning for Paris
where Stravinsky and his Firebird seduced
him to choreograph for the genius
Diaghilev. There he joined the restless
musicians, artists, composers who whirled
through the bars, and cafes of Montparnasse–
each one returning to a private world.

Fauré a gentleman who’d paid his dues
read Villon, taught Ravel, and sought justice
for the avant-garde’s dance with modern muse.
Influenced Stravinsky, Ravel, for less
fame and fortune perhaps, yet still he stressed
elegance and composed while he unfurled
a truce between new wave and staid ensconced–
each one returning to a private world.

With “Ballade” Balanchine would introduce
Fauré through his acclaimed Ballade Opus
Nineteen in a series of pas de deux.
Ballerina and Cavalier express
through their fleeting encounters love’s distress,
exquisitely wound in figures that twirled
en pointeen dehors or through pirouettes
each one returning to a private world.

Formal and modern merge and coalesce;
in a surreal attitude shapes swirled
New York and Paris in artistic dress–
each one returning to a private world.

I don’t usually talk about or try to explain my poems. I think you should be able to take them at their face value, serious or silly, plain or incomprehensible, pretty or poignant — it’s yours as you read it to decide. But considering I wrote the articles, I needed one ballade to do the work of two. So I’m breaking my own rules.

This French Ballade, I think, ideally represents the point where the classic merges with the modern as it did in Paris in the early 20th century. In that period the painter who was on this cusp was Cezanne, the composer was Fauré, the maestro/impresario was Diaghelev, the dancer was Nijinsky. After them it was all modern. As I stated in Luminous Cows, taking the cow as a symbol was a point of change from the bucolic to something lit from within by the truly modern artists. Likewise the ballade which started as a dance, then turned into a poetry form, became a serious subject with the compositions of Chopin only to be “modernized” by Fauré. And through Balanchine who had come late to the Ballet Russe, who knew Fauré, who left Paris for New York, was funded, and initiated serious dance in the US, we have a choreographer who reassembled the Ballade in a completely modern way as dance again. Like mirrors reflecting mirrors reflecting mirrors, the French Ballade changes to something different in the hands of modern artists.

I felt as though my poem too, was on the cusp – both old in its form and its relation to the dance, but new in the way it feels like free verse, the rhymes somewhat slanted, the history almost prosaic. Yet it rhymes, it conforms to syllabic count and the refrain describes the actions of Balanchine’s Ballade. I hope you like it.

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Luminous Cows

The Cow With Parasol by Marc Chagall

You could see cows then in Montmartre
when lights called the world to Paris.
Young hearts came, consumed with their art,
their sight defined Her as heiress.

When lights called the world to Paris,
they found their ideas in cafés;
their sight defined Her as heiress
through canvas, brush, paints and wordplay.

They found their ideas in cafés
in Her energy and freedom.
Through canvas, brush, paints and wordplay
inspiring artistic outcome.

In Her energy and freedom
musicians and artists said they
created inventive outcome
whether written, sculpted or played.

Musicians and artists said they
must make the unseen become known,
whether written, sculpted or played
by weaving their souls in art’s bones.

Must make the unseen become known,
must live and die imbued by art.
By weaving their souls in art’s bones,
they transformed the cows of Montmartre.

Picasso to Chagall, Apollinaire to Hemingway they put the cow and the bull in their art; and Gertrude Stein made “cow” a whole new symbol!

© Gay Reiser Cannon * 1/2012 * All Rights Reserved