A work that drips with gilded grandeur, Theme and Variations pays tribute to Balanchine’s imperial Russia with its regal structure and sumptuous Tschaikovsky score
An intensive display of the classical ballet lexicon, Theme and Variations was intended, as Balanchine wrote, “to evoke that great period in classical dancing when Russian ballet flourished with the aid of Tschaikovsky’s music.” Set to the final movement of Tschaikovsky’s third orchestral suite, the score consists of a theme and 12 variations, culminating in a polonaise in the Imperial style. Arguably the most substantial part of the suite, Tschaikovsky himself began the concert tradition of playing this final movement as a separate piece. Balanchine created Theme and Variations in 1947 for Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre), and it briefly entered the NYCB repertory in 1960. In 1970 Balanchine used the complete orchestral suite to create Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3, and Theme and Variations, with a few minor revisions, returned to the repertory as the fourth and final movement of the ballet.