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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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