Showcasing the tiniest of dancers, Circus Polka is a sprightly piece featuring a carousel of students from the School of American Ballet as they twinkle in lines and circles at the beck and call of a dapper ringmaster.
In 1942 Balanchine received a commission from Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus to choreograph a polka for elephants. Balanchine called Stravinsky and asked him to compose the piece. Stravinsky asked for whom the music was to be composed. “Elephants,” replied Balanchine. “How old?” asked Stravinsky. “Young.” "If they are very young, I will do it,” said the composer. Apparently, he was concerned that older elephants might be startled by the unusual rhythms and harmonies of the music, officially titled Circus Polka for Wind Symphony. Using a 2/4 meter, the music sometimes comically lurches like an elephant out of step. The orchestration — with prominence given to the bass drum, cymbals, and heavy brass — evokes a circus environment. For the Stravinsky Festival in 1972, Jerome Robbins used the music for his Circus Polka, a showpiece for 48 students from the School of American Ballet, and cast himself as the Ringmaster. At the close of the piece, the children form the initials “I.S.,” in honor of the composer; since that time, the ballet has paid tribute to others in the same way.