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Balanchine's La Valse: meanings and implications for Ravel studies.

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • D. H. Mawer
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/12/2006
<mark>Journal</mark>The Opera Quarterly
Issue number1
Number of pages27
Pages (from-to)90-116
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The interpretation of Ravel’s La Valse by George Balanchine (1904-83) opens up new avenues of study for Ravel scholars by inviting enquiry into a complex web of relationships among music, choreography, literature, and historical context. Specifically, the choreographer’s superb visualization of La Valse (1951) yields additional meanings and implications for Ravel’s music - and, more speculatively, for his biography. By extension, the question is raised as to what theoretical-critical framework(s) might help to probe these relationships. In engaging with these issues, I hope to show that Balanchine’s realization can mediate powerfully between so-called “inherent” musical meaning and meaning that emerges through an examination of sociocultural forces (theorized broadly after Nicholas Cook). Balanchine’s choreography, I would argue, successfully negotiates both poles to open up ontological issues and intertextual networks that emphasize some of Ravel’s most recognized musical attributes. Finally, in light of Benjamin Ivry’s controversial biography, I maintain that Balanchine’s work permits hermeneutic enquiry into the composer’s possible homosexuality, and his preoccupation with death.

Bibliographic note

This article represents a distinct extension from output 1. It was one of six international contributions selected by Simon Morrison (Princeton University) and Stephanie Jordan (Roehampton, London) from the Sound Moves conference, where it began as an invited paper. Other contributors include Daniel Albright (Harvard University) and Inger Damsholt (Copenhagen University). The output developed through archival research conducted in Harvard and New York (July 2005), funded by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Research Committee. Through hermeneutic means, the article employs insights from dance to inform musicology. George Balanchine's interpretation of Ravel's La Valse is seen to open up new avenues of study for Ravel scholars and other musicologists by inviting enquiry into the complex web of relationships among music, choreography, literature and historical context. Detailed primary-source research was undertaken on Balanchine (correspondence, videos, 1975 Ravel Festival) and Ravel at the Balanchine Archive, Harvard; the New York Public Library and Dance Notation Bureau, New York. Albright's theory of media consonance and dissonance and Cook's multimedia conformance-contest were combined and adapted to explore meanings and broader implications of the Ravel/Balanchine, La Valse and other works. More speculatively, this output creates interpretive potential in relation to Ravel's biography: his possible homosexuality (proposed, but not substantiated by Benjamin Ivry), and preoccupation with death. This rethinking of Ravel scholarship is being further developed in an interdisciplinary Ravel Studies volume, edited by Mawer, contracted by Cambridge University Press for 2009. RAE_import_type : Journal article RAE_uoa_type : LICA