A sparkling display of ballet classicism, Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 is Balanchine's tribute to his Imperial Russian heritage.
Balanchine first staged Tschaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto for the American Ballet Caravan in May 1941. Under the sponsorship of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs under the Roosevelt administration (Nelson A. Rockefeller, coordinator), the Caravan undertook a tour of South America, performing in every country except Paraguay and Bolivia. It was felt that a ballet should be presented demonstrating the pure classic dance. Instead of reviving an actual classic, Balanchine created a work in the style of Petipa and the Petersburg tradition. The decor, by Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, showed the Neva, with the Peter-Paul Fortress, framed in the Imperial blue and white of the Winter Palace. Ballet Imperial was revived in 1964 by New York City Ballet with new decor by Rouben Ter-Arutunian, who followed a similar visual approach. In 1973, Balanchine felt that the allusion to Imperial Russia was outmoded, and that the ballet could stand on its relation to the music alone. The title was changed, the decor dropped, the costumes simplified, and some of the pantomime in the second movement altered, but the choreography as a whole remained the same. Tschaikovsky’s regal Piano Concerto No. 2 is often overshadowed by his First Piano Concerto, one of the most frequently performed concertos ever written. But Piano Concerto No. 2 has had many champions, including Balanchine, who was drawn to this immense, romantic work.
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