Giant Steps: A Musical Biography of New York City Ballet

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When people talk about New York City Ballet, they often refer to its astounding size. It's the largest dance organization in the country with some 90 dancers. Its active repertory includes more than 150 works. And it has its own academy, the School of American Ballet, which trains hundreds of dancers every year. But as we hear in this special episode, some of its most overlooked achievements are musical. 

Since 1948, New York City Ballet has commissioned several dozen musical scores, including pieces by Igor Stravinsky, Paul Hindemith, Leonard Bernstein, Michael Torke, John Adams, Richard Danielpour, Wynton Marsalis and many others. This week, the company opens its 2010 spring season, which includes four newly commissioned scores: by Thierry Escaich, Jay Greenberg, Bruno Moretti and Esa-Pekka Salonen.

In this two-hour musical portrait of City Ballet, Peter Martins, the company's Ballet Master in Chief, explains what makes composer-choreographer collaborations tick, why American music has been championed at the company, and how choreographers have responded to 12-tone music, jazz rhythms, Asian influences and more.

A choreographer and former dancer with the company, Martins began his career as a principal dancer in the Royal Danish Ballet in the 1960s. He came to New York City Ballet as a principal dancer in 1967 after George Balanchine hired him to dance the principal role in Orpheus, which featured music by Igor Stravinsky. In this exclusive audio clip he recalls how he was first discovered by Balanchine.

Playlist:

Orpheus: Ballet in 3 Scenes, Scene 1
Igor Stravinsky

Agon
Igor Stravinsky

The Four Temperaments - Variation: Choleric
Paul Hindemith

Western Symphony - Allegro
Hershy Kay

Modern Jazz: Variants
Gunther Schuller

Dybbuk Part III, No. 14 (later called The Dybbuk Variations)
Leonard Bernstein

Purple from Ecstatic Orange
Michael Torke

Violin Concerto, Third Movement
John Adams

Friandises: Intrada, Galop
Christopher Rouse

The Nightingale and the Rose
Bright Sheng

Urban Dances, First Movement
Richard Danielpour

This program was produced by Brian Wise. The engineers were George Wellington, John DeLore and Bill O'Neill. The executive producer is Limor Tomer. Terrance McKnight is your host.

Darci Kistler and Nilas Martins in Orpheus, choreographed by George Balanchine
Darci Kistler and Nilas Martins in Orpheus, choreographed by George Balanchine ( Photo: Paul Kolnik )
Wendy Whelan and Albert Evans in <em>Agon</em>, choreographed by George Balanchine
Wendy Whelan and Albert Evans in Agon, choreographed by George Balanchine ( Photo: Paul Kolnik )
Abi Stafford, Nilas Martins and Company in <em>Western Symphony</em>, choreographed by George Balanchine
Abi Stafford, Nilas Martins and Company in Western Symphony, choreographed by George Balanchine ( Photo: Paul Kolnik )
New York City Ballet in <em>The Four Temperaments</em>, choreographed by George Balanchine
New York City Ballet in The Four Temperaments, choreographed by George Balanchine ( Photo: Paul Kolnik )
Jennifer Ringer, Benjamin Millepied and company in <em>Dybbuk</em>, choreographed by Jerome Robbins
Jennifer Ringer, Benjamin Millepied and company in Dybbuk, choreographed by Jerome Robbins ( Photo: Paul Kolnik )
Janie Taylor and Sebastien Marcovici in <em>Purple</em> from  <em>Ecstatic Orange</em>, choreographed by Peter Martins
Janie Taylor and Sebastien Marcovici in Purple from Ecstatic Orange, choreographed by Peter Martins ( Photo: Paul Kolnik )
Sara Mearns and Tyler Angle in <em>The Nightingale and the Rose</em>, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon
Sara Mearns and Tyler Angle in The Nightingale and the Rose, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon ( Photo: Paul Kolnik )
Edwaard Liang (left), Jennie Somogyi (center) and Peter Hansen (right) in <em>Urban Dances</em>, choreographed by Miriam Mahdaviani
Edwaard Liang (left), Jennie Somogyi (center) and Peter Hansen (right) in Urban Dances, choreographed by Miriam Mahdaviani ( Photo: Paul Kolnik )
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