Most recent performance
There are currently no scheduled performances of The Four Temperaments. It was last on stage 27 March—14 April 2015.
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.
News and features
28 March 2015
What did you think of The Royal Ballet's Mixed Programme featuring works by George Balanchine, Hofesh Shechter and Kenneth MacMillan?
26 March 2015
Our quick guide to The Royal Ballet’s mixed programme featuring Hofesh Shechter's debut with the Company and masterpieces by George Balanchine and Kenneth MacMillan.
Radical Ballet: How Balanchine turned ballet's gender conventions on their head with The Four Temperaments23 March 2015
In a historic turning point, Balanchine subverted the established traditions of classical ballet to create a new kind of dance.
16 March 2015
Cast changes affect works that form part of Royal Ballet mixed programme.
The Four Temperaments is a ballet made by New York City Ballet co-founder and ballet master George Balanchine to music he commissioned from Paul Hindemith (the latter's eponymous 1940 music for string orchestra and piano) for the opening program of Ballet Society, immediate forerunner of City Ballet. The work is divided into five parts, a theme and four variations, which reflect the temperaments. Balanchine downplayed the references to medieval "humors" that were believed to determine a person's temperament, saying the four personality types—melancholic, sanguinic, phlegmatic, and choleric—were merely points of departure for the creation of abstract music and dance. The première took place on Wednesday, 20 November 1946, at the Central High School of Needle Trades, New York City, with mise en scène by Kurt Seligmann and lighting by Jean Rosenthal. Leon Barzin conducted and the pianist was Nicholas Kopeikine. The City Ballet première was held in 1951 in practice clothes and without scenery; in 1964 it received new lighting at the New York State Theater, Lincoln Center, by David Hays. NYCB principal dancer Albert Evans chose to include The Four Temperaments in his farewell performance, Sunday, June 20, 2010. The ballet can be read to be a creation story.