Mozartiana introductory notes

Balanchine created two versions of Mozartiana. The first was premiered in June 1933 by Les Ballets at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, made for the then 14-year-old ballerina Tamara Toumanova. In 1981, Balanchine staged a new version, with different choreography, for New York City Ballet. It was his last major work before his death two years later. It is this later version that forms part of Birmingham Royal Ballet's repertory.

The music itself is Tchaikovsky's treatment of four Mozart pieces: Suite No.4 in G major, Op.61 Mozartiana. It consists of three short movements: 'Gigue', 'Menuet', 'Preghiera' (Prayer) and a longer 'Theme and Variations'. The very nature of the music means that this is not one of Balanchine's 'Russian' Tchaikovsky ballets. It is delicate and spiritual, tinged with humour, and pared down, featuring only seven dancers and four young students. Despite Tchaikovsky's romantic orchestration, the music gives the ballet a classical, or perhaps even baroque feel.

In order to provide a loose narrative throughout the piece, Balanchine changed the order of the movements. He opens the ballet with the 'Preghiera', which is based on Mozart's famous Ave verum corpus for choir. A lone ballerina, dressed as though in mourning, gives the impression of being at her morning devotions; four young girls accompany her. Despite the ballet's sparkle and gentle wit, there is the ever-present reminder of, if not death, then mortality.

Second, Tchaikovsky's glittering opening movement, the 'Gigue', is danced by a single male dancer. He executes a lively and virtuoso solo, lasting not much more than two minutes. The stately 'Menuet' which follows, is danced by four women. Anna Kisselgoff's in-depth New York Times review of the 1981 premiere called this four-minute menuet, 'one of Mr. Balanchine's most perfect pieces of choreography'. All three of these sections barely take ten minutes in total.

The 'Theme and Variations', as long again as the preceding three sections, is the finale for both Tchaikovsky and Balanchine. The first ten of the short variations are danced by the ballerina and her partner as a pas de deux, showing the full range of their abilities, from adagio to allegro, but concentrating on the ballerina. The finale starts without a break as the four young girls re-enter the stage. They are quickly joined by the full cast of 11 for the joyous conclusion.