Open Air Series: Notes on the Ballets

Ave Maria

Choreographer: Dwight Rhoden
Music: Ave Maria, by Giulio Caccini
Costumes: Designed by Dwight Rhoden and built in the PBT Costume Shop under the direction of Janet Marie Groom

Dwight Rhoden choreographed Ave Maria as part of his ballet The Grapes of Wrath in 1995. It was met with such acclaim that it’s become a signature piece for the choreographer and is regularly performed as a stand-alone work. The ballet is deceptively athletic and intensely musical. Its imagery references the religious traditions Rhoden grew up with, and also evokes a more universal spirituality, connecting physicality, music and self-reflection.

This behind-the-scenes video features ballerina Christina Johnson, who originated the female role. 

Carmina Terra

Choreographer: Susan Jaffe
Music: Bruno Louchouarn
Costumes: Built in the PBT Costume Shop under the direction of Janet Marie Groom

The technique is just the words and the artistry is the meaning.
-Susan Jaffe

Carmina Terra (“Song of the Earth”) is PBT’s first work by new Artistic Director Susan Jaffe. Created three years ago at the North Carolina School of the Arts, the ballet takes its inspiration from “the natural spirals in nature . . . in seashells, (in) the way water spirals going down a drain, and (in) the spinning spiral of the galaxy.”

In this clip about the work Ms. Jaffe describes her creative process.


Third Act Pas de Deux 

Choreographer: Arthur Saint-Leon
Music: Léo Delibes
Costumes: Designed by William Pitkin

Originally choreographed in 1870, Coppélia is one of the most beloved works in the repertory. Ballet’s first romantic comedy involves two young lovers, multiple misunderstandings, a mechanical doll, slapstick humor and an eccentric scientist with magical powers. This soaring pas de deux is the culminating dance of the ballet – celebrating the wedding of lovers Swanhilda and Franz in gorgeous classical form.

Here Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland perform the pas de deux. 

The Dying Swan

Choreographer: Mikhail Fokine
Music: “Le Cygne” from Le Carnaval des animaux, by Camille Saint-Saëns
Costume: Designed by Peter Farmer for Swan Lake and built in the PBT Costume Shop under the direction of Janet Marie Groom

Mikhail Fokine (of the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo) choreographed The Dying Swan in 1905  for legendary ballerina Anna Pavlova. The beautifully expressive choreography – and Pavlova’s interpretation of it – marked a new emphasis on artistry and emotion (versus technique) in ballet. The Dying Swan is not connected to Swan Lake, though many ballerinas have incorporated Pavlova’s fluid arm movements in their characterization of Swan Lake’s Odette. 

This pandemic-era montage features ballerinas from around the world performing The Dying Swan.

Lascia la Spigna, Cogli la Rosa

Choreographer: Sasha Janes
Music: Aria from Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, HWV 46a, by George Frederic Handel
Costumes: Designed by Sasha Janes and built in the PBT Costume Shop under the direction of Janet Marie Groom

Sasha Janes, whom the Washington Post called a “choreographer to watch,” created this ballet in 2012 for himself and his wife and dance partner, Rebecca Janes. The pas de deux is incredibly complex, with intricate positioning and extreme, demanding lifts. This is the first Janes work to enter PBT’s repertory. Janes is resident choreographer for Charlotte Ballet, associate professor for Indiana University Jacobs School and artistic advisor and director of contemporary studies for the Chautauqua Institution in New York.

These videos give a sense of Janes’ style and aesthetic.

Who Cares?


Choreography: George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust
Music: “Liza,” “My One and Only,” “Who Cares?,” by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin
Costumes: Built in the PBT Costume Shop under the direction of Janet Marie Groom

Who Cares is Balanchine’s tribute to George Gershwin, a project he’d longed to do since his collaboration with Gershwin on the film The Goldwyn Follies in 1937. Choreographed in 1970, the ballet is a series of solos, pas de deux and ensemble pieces set to musical numbers and songs by George and Ira Gershwin. It’s an homage to New York City as well – redolent with the exuberance, intimacy and charm of life in New York City.

See Mikhail Baryshnikov perform “Liza” in this video.