Circus Polka

Music: Igor Stravinsky (Circus Polka for Wind Symphony, 1942)
Choreography: Jerome Robbins
Staging: Judith Fugate
Duration: 5 minutes
Premiere: June 21, 1972; New York City Ballet (Stravinsky Festival)
Pacific Northwest Ballet Premiere: September 16, 2006

Jonathan Porretta and PNB School students in Circus Polka.
Photo © Angela Sterling

The 2006 Pacific Northwest Ballet premiere of Jerome Robbins’ Circus Polka was generously underwritten by Marcella McCaffray.

“Stravinsky’s Circus Polka was composed precisely for the circus—for the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1942. The circus impresarios wanted to do a ballet for elephants. I telephoned [Stravinsky], not giving away the whole story. ‘What kind of music?’ he asked. ‘A polka,’ I said. ‘For whom?’ he wanted to know. ‘Elephants.’ ‘How old?’ ‘Young!’ ‘Okay, if they are very young, I’ll do it.’” —George Balanchine

Balanchine’s ballet for “Fifty Elephants and Fifty Beautiful Girls” was performed 425 times. In 1972, Jerome Robbins created a new ballet to Stravinsky’s music, this time for 48 young dance students and a Ringmaster. Robbins’ short ballet ends with a floor pattern that spells out either the composer's initials, I.S., or another anagram or number befitting the particular occasion.

Recommended Listening:
Stravinsky in America, London Symphony Orchestra/Michael Tilson Thomas, Michael Steinberg, RCA 68865

Recommended Reading:
Ballet of the Elephants, by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker (Roaring Brook Press, 2006). Recommended for grades 1–4


Notes by Doug Fullington.

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