I can never see Balanchine?s ?Serenade? too many times?or read too many elucidating essays on it. This one is by Tom Phillips in the DanceView Times:
?Seventeen girls stand in blue light, with their feet parallel. One arm is raised, the hand flexed toward the vertical. Balanchine reportedly told them they were ?blocking the moonlight.? The position is un-balletic, the expression anti-romantic; but then it is transformed. Suddenly, the wrist curves and circles overhead, then downward through the center line of the body, followed by the gaze; the arms form a ballet fifth position at the hips. Then, without warning or preparation, seventeen pairs of feet suddenly turn out from parallel to first position. The floor squeaks in protest. This movement is striking in its abruptness, almost violence. The point is that it is not an impulse from within, but a discipline imposed from outside. Graham herself said the first time she saw it, tears sprang to her eyes. ?It was simplicity itself,? she said, ?but the simplicity of a very great master.??
Earlier this year I led an outing with members of my church (several of whom had never been to the ballet) to a San Francisco Ballet performance of ?Serenade,? and gave a preparatory lecture on ?Balanchine and Spirituality.? No surprise?they were enchanted by ?Serenade,? and many were eager to see more of SFB?s season.
I think Phillips has it right when he says:
?This was Balanchine?s answer to the despair of modernism, to an age of blindness and death. For him, even death is communal, and redeemed by beauty.?
I must have seen ?Serenade? a dozen times in the last year, and it moved me on every occasion.