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The Four Temperaments

27 March—14 April 2015
Main Stage

Balanchine created a new style of ballet in this radiant and challenging piece, one of his greatest works.

When to see it


The prelude introduces the three-part theme, then reworked in four variations based on the medieval theory of the four temperaments: Melancholic (sad, pensive), Sanguinic (confident), Phlegmatic (impassive) and Choleric (angry).


The premiere of George Balanchine's Four Temperaments in New York on 20 November 1946 was immediately recognized as a pivotal moment in modern ballet. Balanchine's reinvention of classical ballet was entirely unique – a powerful, weird and breathtakingly musical style of dance, in which Balanchine created an ecstatic visualization of Paul Hindemith's specially commissioned 1940 score. The ballet was first performed at the Royal Opera House by New York City Ballet in 1950, and was taken into The Royal Ballet's repertory in 1973.

Four Temperaments was created for the inaugural concert of the Ballet Society (which would later become NYCB). Fussy original designs by Kurt Seligmann were soon exchanged for the practice clothes and bare set used today, in which Balanchine's distinctive language takes centre stage. The nature of the medieval four temperaments guide Hindemith's score – an animated dialogue between piano and string orchestra – but Balanchine's choreography is not programmatic. Rather, it is a crystalline response to Hindemith's music, in which simple movements such as flexed feet, legs in attitude and slinking hip-first lunges become recurring motifs. A series of fiercely challenging solos and ensembles builds to a radiant climax, with couples soaring across the stage.

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