George Balanchine famously said: “there are no new steps, only new combinations.” He neglected to mention that there are quite a lot of old combinations in his choreography too. This does not diminish his genius—he was so prolific that it rather shows how savvy he was at stealing his own steps. Most choreographers are avid recyclers. They borrow from others, and especially themselves. I get very excited when I spot a patch of repurposed material I hadn’t noticed before, and this week I happened upon two more.
Balanchine’s Harlequinade (1965) cycles through our rep only rarely, and it has been absent for over a decade. I was an Alouette when it last ran, and since the birds don’t appear in Act I, I had never seen it before. So I sat in the audience and watched the dress rehearsal. I was surprised to discover a cribbed verbatim sequence in the children’s choreography. The little girls who play the mini-Harlequins attack Columbine’s dopey suitor Léandre with the same choreography that the adult fairies in Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1962) employ to attack Puck. Both groups wield sticks, encircle their prey, and go on the offensive with attitude sauté chassé drives. I guess when you have nailed a balletic stick assault you have nowhere else to go with it!
But this isn’t the only bit of recycling going on in Harlequinade. There are the Rouben Ter-Arutunian sets which were originally used for New York City Opera’s production of Cinderella. The plot is