by Richard Kostelanetz


A good libretto, even an impressionist, double-exposed or portmanteau-ed one, follows most of the rules of simple dramaturgy. Balanchine once said the perfect type plot for a dramatic narrative ballet was the story of the Prodigal Son. Once there was a man who had everything, then he had nothing; finally he had everything again    —Lincoln Kirstein, Ballet Alphabet (1939)

A romantic student rages against society and himself until fate in the form of a fellow student lends a sympathetic hand, teaching him the value of community. When a young woman appears in her nightgown at the door of a local hotel, her fiancé renounces her in public; but when he finds her sleepwalking over to his own house, he escorts her, apparently still asleep, directly to the church, hoping that once they reside together, the woman's somnambulation will cease. Three protagonists, each with a different emotional-mental predicament, consider seeking psychotherapists until each realizes, apart from the others, that he or she might be entering a hell from which there would be no escape.

A young woman albino living in a northern climate falls in love with a man from a sunny country; and once she follows him home, she tragically succumbs to a sunstroke, melting away much like the snow-maiden of traditional myth. Meant to be a parable of masochism, this ballet confines several athletic performers to a single space open at the front but otherwise five feet on each side.

The Baseball Game is a ballet divided into nine sections that the program note calls innings. The large company is divided into two groups, each with nine dancers. Each performance has such variable results that stagehands can be observed going through motions that resemble the making of wagers. The gangster's moll succumbs to his chief bodyguard when both think their master is away; but when their infidelity is discovered, the bodyguard is killed and the moll poisons herself. A young woman artist, who recently identified herself as the victim of a sexual disease, asks successively all her recent lovers if she can photograph them nude cunningly hoping to discover visible evidence of which man infected her.

A woman tells of her sister and alter ego, a dancer who tours seven American cities to earn sufficient money to build a house for her family back home; in each city she encounters a different tempting sin. On a green lawn, twenty-eight dancers, dressed in slightly different shades of green, blend into the natural surroundings as they move about. Surplus is an anthology of disconnected sequences that a fecund choreographer could not use in his previous ballets.

This dance suggests, wholly through movements, events culminating in the assassination of our president. While a young man, lying on a warm beach, picks up a conch shell to discover its sound, a sea nymph, watching him from a hiding place, emerges from her hiding place to meet him, and the dance they do together resembles coition in water.

When a provincial ballet impresario visits a metropolitan dancing school, hoping to find his next prima ballerina, the cynical teacher tries to interest him in the least talented girl. The irony is that the ugly duckling, thanks to training and support, becomes an international star.

When a demonic artist seduces an aristocratic woman and then asks to live with her, she sees no solution to her sexual-social dilemma other than poisoning him. The development of the prima dancers is portrayed through showing first beginning children at the barre, then adolescents in class, and finally soloists exhibiting their bravura techniques, against a continuous background of their eating a proper dancer's diet. A young man unhappily engaged to marry a woman chosen for him, succumbs instead to a lady drug dealer and her exotic potions. The solo dancer portrays, through a series of highly emotional movements, the desires and thus frustrations of women left at home while their men are away at war. This ballet portrays a mysterious fertility rite in which first an old dog and then a young woman are sacrificed.

A European sailor returns to his native fishing village with an African woman whom his neighbors at first find exotic but later reject as alien to their narrow minds.

The protracted conflict between two feuding families is resolved when a grandmother of one falls in love with a grandfather in another and, realizing what problems their relationship makes, the septuagenarians commit suicide together, prompting a necessary reconciliation over the tombs of the star-crossed lovers—a tragically "happy" end. Summoning back to life several nuns who had violated their vows, our wicked protagonist gets them to dance with him, first clothed and then nude.

The cowboys working on a ranch flirt with every woman within sight until their boss dies. The successor is his daughter whom, as their employer, they must respect. This ballet portrays not courtship but the diffidence of a man and a woman in the wake of an emotional and sexual relationship, apparently of some duration. Three male performers, roughly twenty, forty, and sixty, represent generational differences in dealing with worldly opportunities, including women, jobs, art, politics, and religion. Two young people flirt, embrace, and make love in a changing landscape of projected images from classic paintings. The young female protagonist gives her life to save the leader of a crowd of revolutonaries from an assassin's bullet, thus becoming a heroine immortalized in song and, here, in dance.

From a group of women, imprisoned on an island during a civil war, emerges a peasant girl who becomes, successively, a representative of her peers and then their leader in attempting to get back to the mainland. Several individuals, representing various sexual persuasions, attempt to comfort one another in a socially disintegrating world.

When a woman who fears she might lose her lover to her younger sister gives herself to a stranger, whom she finds disgusting, her lover accepts her apology, responding with sympathy and understanding. Several escaped prisoners, living in a remote forest, capture butterflies, which they use for food, until one of the prisoners suffers hallucinations, thinking that he has become a butterfly.

The owner of a puppet theater brings to life his favorite female dancer, his favorite clown, and his favorite strong man, only to discover that the clown falls in love with the ballerina who prefers the strong man who, dummy that he was, kills the clown.

In Pas de trois the dancers, each of a different sexual persuasion, do the erotic moves normally done by two. On stage is brought an upright piece of ice, roughly the size of a coffin, that, as dancers chant and stomp around it, precedes to defrost, revealing the anointed leader of the people. A young man wanting a career in law enforcement proves his mettle, in spite of his grandfather's warnings, by single-handedly capturing a notorious criminal. An artist admiring intently, for days without sleep, a painting of the Holy Family eventually identifies himself with Christ. Imitating the kinds of movement typical of roller skaters, the dancers enact various kinds of kinetic trysts. A group of Greek gods and goddesses, each with his or her name emblazoned on both the front and back of sweatshirts, retell several classic stories simultaneously. A dark-skinned woman saves the life of a politician who falls in love with her, wanting to marry but reluctant to do so until he discovers that her parents were both white, the woman being, a sort of dermatological freak. A group of basketball players, locked out of their stadium in a contractual dispute, entertain their fans by displaying their virtuosity on the street.


RICHARD KOSTELANETZ's theatrical text: LOVINGS was recently produced at the Medicine Show in New York City. He is presently working on a "mechanical opera" for eight loudspeakers.