La Valse

Choreography by: George Balanchine

Music by: Maurice Ravel

Captivated by the moody and mysterious world of Ravel’s La Valse, a young woman waltzes through Balanchine’s surging choreography with tragic results.

"We are dancing on the edge of a volcano," Maurice Ravel wrote in his notes to La Valse. His words are an apt description of both the music and Balanchine's neo-romantic choreography: couples waltzing in a cavernous ballroom where a woman in white is at once horrified and fascinated by the uninvited figure of death.

Intrigued by the disintegration of the waltz form, Ravel envisioned La Valse set in the Imperial Court of Vienna in 1855, and called the score "a choreographic poem … a sort of apotheosis of the Viennese waltz … the mad whirl of some fantastic and fateful carousel." Serge Diaghilev commissioned the score for his Ballets Russes, but rejected it for being "untheatrical." When Balanchine created La Valse in 1951, he found the score to be too short and preceded it with Ravel's Valse Nobles et Sentimentales, eight short waltzes, which establish the mood of the ballet — a mood of superficial gaiety mixed with an uncertain feeling of impending catastrophe.


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Valses Nobles et Sentimentales (1911, orchestrated 1912), La Valse (1920)
February 20, 1951, New York City Ballet, City Center of Music and Drama
Original Cast
Vida Brown, Edwina Fontaine, Jillana, Patricia Wilde, Frank Hobi, Yvonne Mounsey, Michael Maule, Diana Adams, Herbert Bliss, Tanaquil Le Clercq, Nicholas Magallanes, Franciso Moncion

29 Min.
Costumes by
Set by
Jean Rosenthal
Lighting by
Ronald Bates (original production); Mark Stanley (current production)