Leonard Bernstein was one of the fi rst classical composers in America to achieve both popular and critical acclaim. He was eclectic in his sources – drawing on jazz and modernism, the traditions of Jewish music and the Broadway musical – and many of Bernstein’s scores are remarkably well suited to dance. He was particularly associated with Jerome Robbins, their credits together including Fancy Free and West Side Story. To celebrate the centenary year of the composer’s birth, The Royal Ballet has united all three of its associate choreographers to celebrate the dynamic range and danceability of Bernstein’s music.
The programme includes two world premieres by Resident Choreographer Wayne McGregor and Artistic Associate Christopher Wheeldon, marking each artist’s first foray into Bernstein. At the heart of the programme is the first revival of Artist in Residence Liam Scarlett’s The Age of Anxiety, created in 2014 to Bernstein’s soul-searching Second Symphony. Both symphony and ballet are inspired by W.H. Auden’s masterful modernist poem, itself written in response to the atmosphere of disillusionment and uncertainty that followed the end of World War II.
Choreographer: Wayne McGregor
Duration: 19 minutes
Inspired by the Japanese aesthetic concept “yūgen”, the work presents a mystical beauty that is non-rational, ineffable and subtle. Bernstein’s piece Chichester Psalms incorporates elements of Hebrew, Broadway jazz and choral music. As a choreographer-in-residence at the Royal Opera House, McGregor’s choreography is very expressive, displaying the flexibility of the dancers’ bodies. He invited British ceramic artist Edmund de Waal to be a set designer of the ballet and British-Iranian fashion designer Shirin Guild to be the costume designer.
The Age of Anxiety
Choreographer: Liam Scarlett
Duration: 39 minutes
Bernstein’s Symphony No.2, composed in 1947 and 1948, is a work reflecting the state of society. It was inspired by the poem The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue by the famous Anglo-American poet W. H. Auden. It tells the story of four people searching for meaning in a world that has lost its values as World War II draws to a close, which presents the anxiety and confusion of the post-war generation. Liam Scarlett is an Artist in Residence at the Royal Ballet. His ballet The Age of Anxiety was premiered at the Royal Opera House in 2014.
Choreographer: Christopher Wheeldon
Duration: 33 minutes
Christopher Wheeldon, renowned British choreographer and artistic assistant to the Royal Ballet, has created this new ballet to commemorate the centenary of Bernstein’s birth. Serenade after Plato’s “Symposium” was created in 1954 as one of Bernstein’s most iconic works. It tells the story of several ancient Greek philosophers who share their understandings of love at a dinner party, including Socrates, the sophist Pausanias, the comic playwright Aristophanes, the physician Eryximachus, the tragedian Agathon and the young politician Alcibiades. The five movements of the piece are named after the philosophers. The music is soulful, melodic and highly conversational, containing a great deal of dissonance and extremely complex rhythms. Korybantes is one of the ancient Greek gods who often drummed and danced in full armour. He represents an important origin of European music and dance.