George Gershwin's music has proved to be enduringly popular with audiences, and his rhythms and structures have proved to be inspirational to choreographers as well. Perhaps the best known balletic interpretation of his music is George Balanchine's Who Cares? from 1970.
David Nixon has long been interested in creating a work to Gershwin's music. His first opportunity arose from a commission from the Columbus Symphony Orchestra for whom he choreographed two pas de deux set to Embraceable You and the second movement of the Concerto in F. For the summer 1999 appearance of BalletMet dancers in Colorado Springs, Mr. Nixon chose to choreograph to five short Gershwin pieces (group dance, 1 solo and 3 pas de deux). The music was Strike up the Band, Three Preludes and The Man I Love. He expanded and reworked these pieces into a full ballet entitled Gershwin Dances that premiered as a work in progress at BalletMet's SummerDance '99. The success of the work, and the generous financial support of Cheryl and Larry Simon, have ensured that the ballet will be seen as a part of BalletMet's spring 2000 season. It is Mr. Nixon's aim to further expand these dances into a full evening work dedicated to George Gershwin.
Gershwin, who began to play the piano in his late teens, created a ceaseless flow of brisk, infectious rhythms and affectingly poignant ballads. His works often combined jazz, folk, and blues rhythms, and he occasionally invoked satire into his music. His compositions, ranging from the light-hearted to the serious, have been categorized as both classical and Broadway commercial. Mr. Nixon sets his ballet to a collection of favorite Gershwin tunes that captures the many moods of the composer. The pieces are Strike up the Band, Three Preludes, The Man I Love and An American in Paris.
The choreographic style of that Mr. Nixon chooses is very influenced by the music. In Gershwin Dances he has sought a marriage between his preference for fluid movements and the jazz dance of Broadway suggested by the music. As with the music, the specific choreographic inspiration for each section is also varied. Each is intended to be viewed independent of the others. The unifying theme is the music of Gershwin.
Mr. Nixon explains that many of the specific movement choices are inspired by the dancers cast in the roles. For instance he finds that Elizabeth Zengara communicates notably with her body movements. Thus the movement quality is the important ingredient in the Three Preludes section. Anne Adair Wilkins' The Man I Love hinges more on Anne's personality and elegance.
An American in Paris contains many moods and is a very descriptive piece of music. David Nixon thought that the dancing also needed a story to complement the score. In Jim Orrante and Dimitri Suslov Mr. Nixon saw a playful, boyish charisma, which he builds upon in his choreography. He thought of "two guys on the town" who find two girls. Although both men woo the same girl she eventually chooses one. This causes the other to go over the top trying to impress the remaining girl. So the dance begins.
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