Ancient Airs and Dances

Music: Ottorino Respighi (Ancient Airs and Dances, 1917–1931)
Choreography: Richard Tanner
Costume Design: Holly Hynes
Lighting Design: Mark Stanley
Duration: 29 minutes
Premiere: May 29, 1992; New York City Ballet (Diamond Project)
Pacific Northwest Ballet Premiere: February 2, 2006

Kari Brunson and Benjamin Griffiths in
Ancient Airs and Dances. Photo © Angela Sterling

Choreographer Richard Tanner’s large ensemble ballet, Ancient Airs and Dances, was made in 1992 for New York City Ballet’s Diamond Project, the company’s program for creating new work. Set to Respighi’s classic score, the work effuses a mercurial Baroque sensibility redefined in modern balletic terms. Tanner explains, “I’ve chosen excerpts from orchestral suites by Respighi. I love that music. It’s so beautifully arranged. Although Respighi based his themes on Renaissance melodies, I’m using no steps from that period. I tried putting a few into the ballet, but they just stuck out.”

Writing for The New York Times, dance critic Anna Kisselgoff described the musical, choreographic and psychological content of Ancient Airs and Dances: “Like the composer, [Tanner] comments on Renaissance and Baroque dance forms from a 20th-century perspective. And yet the choreography is not a gloss on pre-classical dances but a neo-classical work that freshly restates the roots of theatrical dance through patterns that refer to rituals, chain formations and figure dances...Indeed, he has created a plotless work for three main couples and six supporting pairs...that focuses on a striking dance design but also explores emotional relationships within a community.”

Notes by Doug Fullington.

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