Billy the Kid

Choreography: Eugene Loring

Music: Aaron Copland    Listen to the score

Premiere: Ballet Caravan 1938

Ballet Caravan, founded by Lincoln Kerstein in 1936, merged with Balanchine’s American Ballet in 1941. Later, the two men founded the New York City Ballet. In its brief, five-year existence, Ballet Caravan staged American-themed ballets for small groups of students. Today, Billy the Kid is the most famous of these.

Though it’s impossible to locate a video on the Web, Balanchine’s description in “101” is detailed enough to get a strong sense of the ballet’s aesthetic. In a stereotypical Wild West setting, Billy the Kid depicts a mostly fictional tale of the legend. The ballet begins with settlers venturing toward the frontier. Young Billy’s mother is accidentally killed and Billy takes immediate revenge. Billy makes a habit of murder and it finally catches up to him in the end. The tale is part Western, part psychological study.

More than the visual, however, it is Copland’s score, which builds upon fragments of “cowboy tunes and American folk songs” (Wikipedia), that seems to deserve most of the accolades. Copland “was instrumental in forging a distinctly American style of composition, and is often referred to as “the Dean of American Composers”… The open, slowly changing harmonies of many of his works are archetypical of what many people consider to be the sound of American music, evoking the vast American landscape and pioneer spirit.” (Wikipedia)


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