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Dance

Celebrate Independence: George Balanchine's Stars and Stripes [by Stacey Lehman]

Russian born choreographer George Balanchine loved America. It was here that his genius found its full expression in the New York City Ballet. Nowhere is that love more manifest than in the exuberant "Stars and Stripes" which Balanchine choreographed to music by John Philip Sousa, as arranged by Hershy Kay. The ballet premiered at New York's City Center on January 17, 1958, and was also on the program during the company's 1964 inaugural performance at Lincoln Center. 
On January 26, 1981, following the release of the American hostages from captivity in Iran, the New York City Ballet gave a surprise encore performance of the "Stars and Stripes" finale. In introducing the encore, principle dancer Jacques d'Amboise said that it was presented by the ''dancers, orchestra and stage crew to celebrate this event with you. Our American hostages are free at last.'' As reported in the New York Times, "Mr. d'Amboise wore a yellow ribbon on his arm and yellow ribbons adorned the orchestra music stands. As the American flag rose that traditionally ends the ballet, the audience began to clap rhythmically. At the ballet's close the dancers, led by Mr. d'Amboise and Lourdes Lopez, swept to the front, waving yellow ribbons and kerchiefs to a standing ovation." How I wish I could have been there!

 "Stars and Stripes" is one of my all-time favorite ballets. I can't keep myself from crying as the American flag unfurls behind the dancers giving their all. You can find many clips of the ballet on Youtube. Here's one that, while it doesn't include that beautiful flag, it does feature Jacques D'Amboise and Melissa Hayden from the original cast. The speed, precision, elegance, and joy of their dancing makes me want to stand up and salute. 


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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark


from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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