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By turns elegiac and courtly, Chaconne begins with a dreamlike prologue and concludes with a grand series of classical dances.
A chaconne is a dance, built on a short phrase in the bass, that was often used by composers of the 17th and 18th centuries to end an opera in a festive mood. This choreography, first performed in the 1963 Hamburg State Opera production of Orfeo ed Euridice, was somewhat altered for presentation as the ballet Chaconne particularly in the sections for the principal dancers.
Balanchine's first Orfeo was made for the Metropolitan Opera in 1936. His novel approach — the singers remained in the pit while the action was danced on stage — was not well received, and the production had only two performances. In addition to the Hamburg production, he choreographed other versions of the opera for the Théâtre National de l'Opéra, Paris in 1973 and the Chicago Lyric Opera in 1975.
While having roots in earlier opera productions, Chaconne is pure dance. The opening pas de deux and following ensemble are lyrical and flowing. The second part has the spirit of a court entertainment, with formal divertissements, bravura roles for the principal dancers, and, of course, a concluding chaconne.
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