George Balanchine created Tarantella in 1964 for New York City Ballet principal dancers Patricia McBride and Edward Villella. In his book, Balanchine’s Stories of the Great Ballets, the choreographer had this to say about this charming work: “This pas de deux is one of a long series of short ballets I have made for the gifts of specific dancers. The music is for solo piano and orchestra, based on the Grande Tarantelle of the New Orleans pianist-composer Louis Gottschalk, who dazzled Europe and the United States with his recitals a hundred years ago. This work, which I asked Hershy Kay to orchestrate for us, is thought to be the first work for piano and orchestra ever composed by an American. It is a dazzling display piece, full of speed and high spirits. So, I hope, is the dance, which is ‘Neapolitan,’ if you like, and ‘demi-caractère.’ The costumes are inspired by Italy, anyhow, and there are tambourines.”
Created for a particular pair of dancers, Tarantella continues to challenge artists of succeeding generations, whose virtuosity it delightfully showcases. The ballet has been in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s repertory since 1985.
Notes by Jeanie Thomas, 1995.