Critic: Tell me, Mr. Balanchine, where did you ever see Apollo on his knees?
Balanchine: Tell me, Mr. So and so, where did you ever see Apollo?
All good art begins with a weird birth unseen,
or seen as dotted rhythms knocking hard on high: here
a mountainous mother, heaving a landslide
to cushion the fall
out of the swaddling massive. Quick—coupé
turning point to quaver weedy limbs.
There will be no dead spots anywhere.
II. Variation of Apollo
The problem of the poem—like the problem of the lute—
can be thawed with play. Instructions:
~ present outwards, unsure of score or strength or harmony;
~ pitch arms wide for a full circle strum;
~ learn the sting of withered efforts and proceed
body over neck over body with youthful generosity.
These are studied revolutions in attitude and grace.
III. Apollo & the three Muses
A choreographer may tell you this: it always pays
to reinvent oneself, surrounded by women
adept at odd lines—women who grand battement
on pointe and stretch their blistered toes to the sun.
Women who insist a flat-footed shuffle, a turned-in leg
or bent pirouette; sharp educators in civil disobedience
offering tutorials in filigree counterpoint:
Variation of Calliope
These hands conduct ecstatic verse from the ribcage
through an over-thought Alexandrine density.
When vision is thin, the chest caves in. (This I know).
If you turn your head, I’ll scribble in your sidelines.
Variation of Polyhymnia
sh| gesture can be taught at great speed;
a saucy pirouette with one finger to the lips—
the imagination goes wild. sh| The fun of mime
can be a tonic for new movement; the danger is
(mouth flung wide) O ||
Variation of Terpsichore
One must use the stage wisely to reveal
the body’s jigsaw precision: here are the hips,
twisty as a soda top; the arms breezy; tendons flexed.
The dance is lean-revelation and pluck; the body is a neat thing.
Apollo is opening, closing his fist—neon
flashing lights—and now he knows this
about kick and control; subtle liaisons
of language and line. Let us go, he says,
for a slow walk, or a swimming lesson, or frisky
diversions in the troika. Bounce the strings
fast and strong enough to test our laurels without
fear of fall or rest within the score.
His attention is drawn wide as a curtain
on a New York apartment window.
Adolescence is a half-hour exertion—so it seems
what’s hard is best learned fast. To dare not use
everything but draw together certain family relations
in one’s art: music, movement, humour—
humble pie and vodka with a side of disagreement
cut short. (We’ll continue the conversation upstairs).
Based upon the choreography of George Balanchine, 1928 and music of Igor Stravinsky, 1927/28
1 March 2017