Tchaikovsky compositions also accompany Balanchine classics such as “Serenade” (1935), “The Nutcracker” (1954) and the “Diamonds” section of “Jewels” (1967).
While Stravinsky’s music summoned Balanchine’s boldest and most modern sensibilities, Tchaikovsky brought out his sense of nostalgia, romance and grandeur.
Balanchine professed to feel a spiritual connection to Tchaikovsky, and that showed in the way he built ballets to his music: The steps typically feel instinctive and utterly intertwined with the score.
“For these types of ballets, there seem to be no other steps that would be right,” NYCB principal ballerina Tiler Peck says.
The ‘father’ he never met
Tchaikovsky and Balanchine were not contemporaries; the composer died in 1893, 11 years before the choreographer was born.
But during Balanchine’s childhood in St. Petersburg, Tchaikovsky’s presence still loomed large. In fact, it was to Tchaikovsky’s “The Sleeping Beauty” that a 12-year-old Balanchine made his performance debut, appearing as Cupid in a production at the Mariinsky Theater.
Years later, after Balanchine had launched his company in the United States, the music “tied him to his own past and to a historically disappearing place and time,” says Jennifer Homans, a dance historian and author of “Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet.”
But it wasn’t just wistful longing that made Balanchine so enamored of Tchaikovsky’s music. The choreographer felt something deeper than that: He sensed a strong emotional bond to Tchaikovsky and believed that he had a unique ability to understand the troubled, depressive composer.
Not long before Balanchine’s death in 1983, he explained in an interview with Russian writer and musicologist Solomon Volkov how Tchaikovsky had influenced his artistry.
“If it’s not going well, I ask Tchaikovsky, ‘Please!’ I never saw Tchaikovsky, but I turned to him. I’ve never spoken about this. It’s awkward to speak about it. But alone, without Tchaikovsky’s help, I would not have managed,” Balanchine said. “I couldn’t do it alone; I’m not smart enough for it.”
In the same interview, Balanchine declared that Tchaikovsky was “like a father” to him.
The deep well of inspiration and support that Balanchine found in Tchaikovsky’s music served as fuel for some of his key choreographic breakthroughs.