Choreography: Jerome Robbins
Music: Igor Stravinsky
Premiere: New York City Ballet, 1951
In “Apollo’s Angels,” Jennifer Homans describes Jerome Robbins’ The Cage as one of “the ugliest and most disturbing ballets of all time…an orgy of savage female insects who stalk, kill and feed on male intruders with explicit sexual pleasure…as relentless and driving as Stravinsky’s score, and also as poignant…one of Robbins’ great ballets.”
The story of this brief ballet follows a baby insect, The Novice, born into a tribe of violent, female predators. The Novice quickly learns the practices of her kind, winning the approval of her peers upon her first kill. Briefly, though, she falls in love with an unsuspecting male intruder. Their dance is sexual, animal. But when the tribe returns to the scene and the male thrusts The Novice toward them in disgust, they attack. The Novice, despite her crude feelings for the intruder, obeys her murderous instincts. The victorious tribe devours the male’s body.
Not surprisingly, the critical response to The Cage upon its 1951 premiere was one of shock and distaste. The Dutch government, as Homans mentions, at first banned it as “pornographic.” Robbins defended his creation, comparing it to the second act of Giselle. The Cage’s “Group” does in some way resemble the Wilis of Giselle. Even a contemporary viewer, however, must see the contrast between the loyal character of Giselle who loves Albrecht even in death, and the fickle nature of The Novice whose tribal instincts render her incapable of real love.
In “101,” Balanchine draws parallels between the women of The Cage and the many preceding stories of the predatory female, including Black Widow insects and even the legendary Amazon women. Is The Cage a commentary on female strength and self-sufficiency, or an indictment on its potential cruelty and viciousness? Perhaps it is both. It’s interesting that the piece was created just a decade prior to the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s, which did then and still does challenge society with the duality of these feminine traits.