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202. THE BALLET OF THE ELEPHANTS



Music: By Igor Stravinsky (Circus Polka, 1942, written at the request of George Balanchine, with the dedication 'For a young elephant').

Choreography: By George Balanchine.

Production: Staged by John Murray Anderson. Costumes by Norman Bel Geddes (elephant tutus by Miles White). Elephants trained by Walter McClain.

Premiere: April 9, 1942, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Madison Square Garden, New York. Conductor: Merle Evans.

Cast: The elephant Modoc as 'premiere ballerina,' and 'fifty elephants and fifty beautiful girls in an original choreographic tour de force.'

Note: Performed for one season, April-November 1942, 425 performances. On opening night, for an Armed Forces benefit, Vera Zorina rode atop Modoc into the center ring and, before the Stravinsky ballet began, performed an improvised routine with the elephant to Weber's Invitation to the Dance (Zorina, pp. 258-61). In Circus Polka, three girls atop elephants occupied the three rings, with other dancers on platforms between them. Frederic Franklin remembered that the elephants became nervous and finished ahead of the Stravinsky music. Constance Clausen, one of the dancing girls, remembered that 'Balanchine also did a fiesta number for the horses: We had to swirl Spanish toreador capes to music from Carmen' (Mason, ed., I Remember Balanchine, p. 225). The corps de ballet was drawn from "The North Starlets," young women of the aerial, ground, and equestrian ensembles, supplemented by dancers hired by Balanchine for the New York performances.
According to the Circus World Museum, Baraboo, Wis., the Ringling Brothers troupe had more than forty--but fewer than fifty--elephants in 1942. In 1945, for a program entitled Adventure in Ballet, Balanchine choreographed another work to this music with an all-human cast.

See also: 230  

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