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Prodigal Son

Prodigal Son



George Balanchine


Sergei Prokofiev
35 minutes

Program Notes

Prodigal Son, the second oldest of George Balanchine’s surviving dances, is a one-act retelling of the Biblical parable, designed by Georges Rouault and set to a commissioned score by Sergei Prokofiev.  The repertory of Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, for which Balanchine made Prodigal Son in 1929, was full of such collaborations, but after Diaghilev’s death, Balanchine increasingly favored plotless ballets danced without decor and set to pre-existing pieces of music.  (In later years, he would make only four other major ballets that break all of these self-imposed “rules” La Sonnambula, Orpheus,Don Quixote, and The Nutcracker)

Perhaps, for this reason, Balanchine showed comparatively little interest in Prodigal Son.  New York City Ballet’s 1950 revival, the first time the ballet had been seen in two decades, was undertaken mainly in order to supply Jerome Robbins with a starring vehicle, and Balanchine actually had difficulty recalling important choreographic details;  he spent scarcely more than an hour teaching the title role to Edward Villella when the dance was revived again in 1960.  “This is your ballet,” he told Villella.  “I stage it this time, next time you stage.  I’m never going to stage it again.”  In fact he did stage it once more -- for Mikhail Baryshnikov, in 1978 -- but it was Villella’s magnetic performance that established Prodigal Son as a permanent part of the NYCB repertory, and it has been danced by that company ever since.

Yet for all Balanchine's seeming lack of interest in Prodigal Son, it remains one of his key works, not merely for its historical significance (it is one of only a half-dozen Ballet Russes dances that continue to be performed regularly), but also because of its narrative clarity and choreographic boldness.  Indeed, Balanchine never made a more effective showpiece for a male dancer, or a more compelling story ballet:  seventy years later, the sexual explicitness of the pas de deux has not yet lost its power to startle, and Prokofiev’s radiant score remains one of the finest pieces of ballet music composed in this century.

Note by Terry Teachout

“ The performance of Prodigal Son, a Balanchine Ballet, is presented by arrangement with The George Balanchine Trust and has been produced in accordance with the Balanchine Style  and Balanchine Technique , Service Standards established and provided by The Trust.”

Miami City Ballet premiere on October 15, 1987 at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts; Miami, Florida.

Miami City Ballet's production of Prodigal Son was made possible by a major grant from AT&T

Originally staged for Miami City Ballet by Richard Tanner.

Ballet Credits

Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust

Music by Sergei Prokofiev*

Restaged after the George Balanchine Trust

Scenic and Costume Design by Georges Rouault

Costume Execution by Haydée Morales

Lighting Design by John Hall