Tickets for The Wild, Wild West are on sale!
April 1st at 1:30 or 7:30 at The Adler Theatre, Davenport, Iowa.
Tickets may be purchased at The Adler Theatre Box Office, Monday - Friday 10am-5pm or through Ticketmaster online.
Buy Tickets for 1:30
Buy Tickets for 7:30
Keep reading for more information on the music and history of The Wild, Wild West
Innovations in dance during the first half the 20th century served as a motivating force for composers, and at the same time musical modernism pushed contemporary dance into new realms. In Europe, the stranglehold of classical ballet began to loosen during the early part of the century: Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and other pioneers of the avant garde
were prime motivations for Stravinsky, Ravel, Debussy, Poulenc, Prokofiev, Satie, Milhaud, Falla and even Richard Strauss. When dance took hold in America, choreographers such as George Balanchine, Martha Graham, Katherine Dunham and Agnes de
Mille sought out composers whose music was as adventurous as their movement.
De Mille, who boasted cinema moguls on her father’s side (including her famous Uncle Cecil B.), took ballet classes during her youth in Hollywood, but during the 1920s a persistent rebellious streak (and her parents’ divorce) led her back to New York. There she explored the many styles styles of dance, eventually studying with Anthony Tudor in London, who helped sharpened both her ballet skills and her gift for storytelling. In the late 1930s she was well-known enough to receive a commission by the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, which had recently split from the original Ballets Russes and was presenting pioneering works of Léonide Massine, Serge Lifar, Michel Fokine and Vaclav Nijinsky.
For her choreography de Mille drew on the loose-limbed, at times comedic style that had become her trademark, including horseback-riding gestures she had developed in smaller-scale works. For the music she was adamant about enticing Aaron Copland, whose recent score for Billy the Kid
was perfectly suited to what she had in mind. Copland, who was going through a bit of a stylistic crisis himself, was looking for a simpler, more direct musical style than the alienating modernism that had marked his works of the 1920s. (He would later write of emerging from a “period of austerity” to write music that could more successfully connect “the music-loving public and the living composer.”) Copland had dreamed of composing for the Ballets Russes since his early days in Paris, and he was more than eager to take up de Mille’s commission.
Rodeo: The Courting at Burnt Ranch
was as critical a moment for music as for dance. First performed at New York’s old Metropolitan Opera House in 1942, it helped solidify the fresh, open-air sound that was, in part, an expression of the sonorities Copland had learned in Paris at the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau. It has come to be identified as the style of cowboy Western soundtracks, though its roots were partly European.
The ballet tells a classic American tale of love and jealousy. A Cowgirl is in love with the Head Wrangler of the rodeo, whom she tries to impress with her aplomb on a bucking bronco. He is more interested in the more conventionally feminine Rancher’s Daughter. The opening “Buckaroo Holiday” weaves “Sis Joe” and “If He’d be a Buckaroo” into the texture, the first of several traditional cowboy tunes Copland employs for the score. In the “Corral Nocturne,” the melancholy Cowgirl “runs through the empty corrals intoxicated with space, her feet thudding in the stillness,” as de Mille wrote. Later, at the “Ranch House Party,” we are introduced to the Champion Roper, who is also attracted to the Rancher’s Daughter. In the “Saturday Night Waltz” the Roper finally gives heed to the Cowgirl. To everyone’s surprise, she appears at the “Hoe-Down” looking fabulous in a frilly dress, and is the center of attention. But when the Head Wrangler approaches, she turns and dances with someone else.
Aaron Copland: Billy the Kid
In the early years of American cinema it was the producers, not the directors, who ran Hollywood. The workaday director in those days, as critic Gore Vidal used to say, was “the brother-in-law.” Likewise during the first years of what was called the American Ballet—which would later join Ballet Caravan and Ballet Society to become New York City Ballet—it was the wealthy dilettante Lincoln Kirstein who set the course for New York’s first significant dance company. Like Diaghilev in Paris, Kirstein was above all an impresario who (together with Edward Warburg) procured both the funding and the artistic talent for the company that would later bring George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins into its fold.
To this unlikely crew was added the dancer-choreographer Edward Loring, a Wisconsin-born saloon-keeper’s son, who acquired his training at the company’s new school—the current School of American Ballet—and later went to Hollywood to choreograph for Fred Astaire and others.
Before he left New York, though, Loring was deemed the ideal choreographer for Kirstein’s concept of a ballet based on Billy the Kid. Using the highly idealized version of the Kid’s life found in Walter Noble Burns’ 1925 book The Saga of Billy the Kid
(the main source of American popular knowledge of the outlaw at the time), Loring created a scenario with four principals: the Kid, his Mother (with the same dancer playing his Sweetheart), Sheriff Pat Garrett, and “Alias” (representing the Kid’s enemies). In portraying Billy as a sort of dashing bad-boy battling corrupt landowners and officials, the ballet was very much in keeping with the romantic vision of the American West and its rugged anti-heroes.
Aaron Copland, having already composed successful scores of a vernacular nature (El Salón México, Prairie Journal
), was in many ways ideal for the project. As he would later do with Rodeo,
he interspersed cowboy tunes into the score, giving it an authenticity that did not, however, diminish the sophistication of its musical language. Ballet Caravan’s 1938 premiere, in Chicago, was accompanied by a two-piano version of the score that Copland later orchestrated. The New York premiere was in May 1939, with the orchestra conducted by Fritz Kitzinger.
The movement titles provide a rough outline of the story, from the expansive harmonies of “The Open Prairie” to the strolling rhythms of “Street in a Frontier Town” and the “Mexican Dance and Finale.” (in which Billy, at age 12, kills the man who murders his Mother.) In the impressionistic scenes that unfold, “Prairie Night” is a tranquil respite that pans to the “Card Game at Night” and the inevitable “Gun Battle.” The “Celebration after Billy’s Capture,” with muted ebullience, gives way to a “Waltz” and to the sad strains of “Billy’s Demise.” The reprise (“The Open Prairie”) serves as a reflection of both the triumph and violence of the tale—the “mixed blessing,” perhaps, of Western expansionism.
The program notes provided by Orchestra Iowa give a historic overview of the music and the dance that make up the program of the Wild, Wild, West.
Courtney Lyon and Margaret King have created their own interpolations for both of these ballets for the dancers of Ballet Quad Cities.
We hope that you will enjoy their creativity while honoring the music and ideas of the original artists.