Serenade begins in a calming blue darkness with seventeen women standing still, their right arms raised to shield their faces from what feels like moonlight. When Tchaikovsky’s opening musical phrase repeats they slowly move their arms in unison until their parallel feet snap to first position. Then, with their arms opened wide they arch backwards to the sky as the last chord trails off into silence. It is a balletic hosanna. From there the music picks up and the women begin to bend and shape themselves into little floral-patterned quartets (your math is correct, one girl simply runs off into the wings for much of the piece) and the stage becomes a swirling sea of blue tulle. But that tranquil, evanescent opening is so spiritually charged that it never fails to awe me.
It is roughly two minutes long and it summarizes the whole ballet—and also the entirety of human experience! The women’s arms float effortlessly, but the path they trace is heavy with meaning: