Fittingly, the very first ballet he ever choreographed after coming to these shores will open the evening-length program. Set to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, Balanchine’s Serenade highlights both his love of music and his deft ability to choreograph amazing works without the aid of a clear narrative. The centerpiece and spotlight of the evening is a Ballet West premiere of another classic, Agon. Set to music by his contemporary, Igor Stravinsky, this work culminates in an energetic, even erotic, pas de deux that exemplifies the modern sensibilities Balanchine was dramatically infusing into traditional ballet.
Closing the bill is perhaps Balanchine’s most American ballet of all: Stars & Stripes, a work in five “campaigns” set to the inspirational marches of John Philip Sousa. This gesture to his adoptive country is certainly full of patriotic flourishes but also contains the Balanchine hallmarks that bestow the master his rightful place in ballet repertory companies the country over.