Saratoga Dispatch—or—The Pleasures of Balanchine
“These pleasures, Melancholy, give;
And I with thee will choose to live.”
------------John Milton, from “Il Penseroso” (1633)
“The Four Temperaments,” Balanchine’s 1946 masterpiece, is an essential ballet. Whereas Robbin’s “Dances at a Gathering” creates an “eloquent vernacular,” this work speaks in heightened poetry of breathtaking originality. Feeling both ancient and beyond its (our) time, this plotless ballet is about the nature of meaning itself. The dancers' movements are so beautiful, so innovative, so finely crafted, the viewer feels they must mean something specific. But what? Is this a calligraphic dance limning characters of a language we no longer can read? Though no one could move like that on their own, who wouldn’t wish their human relationships imbued with such meaningful lyricism? Balanchine understands something about space and the way bodies inhabit it that makes movement profound.
We look and look, our eyes ravenous for what Balanchine will next offer, and realize we could look the rest of our lives. The meaning of meaning is the mystery of life, but in the thirty minutes of “The Four Temperaments” we feel it almost within our grasp.