Serenade was my first ballet in the United States. Soon after my arrival in America, Lincoln Kirstein, Edward M. M. Warburg, and I opened the School of American Ballet in New York. As part of the school curriculum, I started an evening ballet class in stage technique, to give students some idea of how dancing on stage differs from classwork. Serenade evolved from the lessons I gave.
... Many people think there is a concealed story in the ballet. There is not. There are, simply, dancers in motion to a beautiful piece of music. The only story is the music’s story, a serenade, a dance, if you like, in the light of the moon.
Because Tchaikovsky’s score, though it was not composed for the ballet, has in its danceable four movements different qualities suggestive of different emotions and human situations, parts of the ballet seem to have a story: the apparently “pure” dance takes on a kind of plot. But this plot, inherent in the score, contains many stories-it is many things to many listeners to the music, and many things to many people who see the ballet.
The four movements of Tchaikovsky’s score are danced in the following order, without interruption: (1) Piece in the Form of a Sonatina: Andante nоn troppo, Allegro; (2) Waltz; (3) Тема Russo: Andante, Allegro con spirito; (4) Elegy.
Serenade has seen a number of different productions. It was produced by the American Ballet, the company made up of our dancers at the School of American Ballet, in its first season, at the Adelphi Theatre, New York, March 1-15, 1935. It was staged for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, October 17, 1940, at the Metropolitan Opera House ... In 1941, Serenade was mounted for the South American tour of the American Ballet Caravan in a new production... In 1947 it was staged for the ballet of the Paris Opera. On October 18, 1948, Serenade became part of the permanent repertory of the New York City Ballet...
The leading role in Serenade was first danced by a group of soloists, rather than by one principal dancer. In a number of productions, however, I arranged it for one dancer. But when the New York City Ballet was to make its first appearance in London, at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in the summer of 1950, it seemed appropriate to introduce the company by introducing its principal dancers and the leading role was again divided and danced by our leading soloists.
Serenade is now danced by many ballet companies in the United States and abroad. A few years ago I finally succeeded in expanding the ballet so that it now uses all of the score of the Tchaikovsky “Serenade for Strings, ” something I had wanted to do for a long time. The interesting thing is that while some knowing members of the audience noticed this change and spoke to me about it, the critics didn’t seem to notice at all! Perhaps they had seen the ballet too often!
From 101 Stories of the Greats Ballets by George Balanchine & Francis Mason