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What's on

Birmingham Hippodrome
3 - 5 July 2008

The Lowry
8 - 12 July 2008

Click here for a full diary of performances and links for how to book.

Full performance diary

Click here for performance listings.

The history of Card Game

A more detailed look at the history and plot of the ballet

Card Game, or Jeu de cartes as it is also known, was the very first collaboration between Balanchine and Stravinsky, after the former moved to America in 1933. He wrote to the composer in France, asking him to write 'whatever he liked', so the idea behind the game of poker that the piece depicts was Stravinsky's. He called it a 'ballet in three deals' each of the short scenes depicting a hand of poker, and the interaction between the high cards, low cards and the unruly Joker.

Stravinsky later recalled, 'The idea for this ballet entered my head one evening in a taxi while I was on my way to visit some friends. I was so delighted that I stopped the driver and invited him to have a drink with me'. Stravinsky took the opportunity to parody the grace and elegance of classical ballet and also elements of the musical style of composers as varied as Rossini, Beethoven, Ravel and Tchaikovsky.

The first version by Balanchine from 1937 (then called The Card Party) was considered by some to be one of the few unsuccessful collaborations between the two great men.A new version was created by Janine Charret in 1945 for the Ballets des Champs-Elysées in Paris, and Balanchine's original was revived in America in 1951.

Most recently, Peter Martins choreographed it for New York City Ballet in 1992. However, the version most familiar and most often performed outside America is John Cranko's 1965 version, created for Stuttgart Ballet in 1965. He staged it the following year for The Royal Ballet; Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet first performed it in 1979.

The choreographic score Birmingham Royal Ballet will use to revive the piece later this year, was notated by Georgette Tsinguirides in Stuttgart in 1965, in Benesh Movement Notation, which was adopted by The Royal Ballet in 1955. The score was later mastered by Jane Bourne, who will assist with the staging.

Each of the three 'deals' opens with the same brief march tune representing the dealing of the hands. The first hand features two tens and two sevens, the Queen of Hearts and the ubiquitous and mischievous Joker. The somewhat dizzy Queen of Hearts is flattered and partnered by two pairs of Spades who, between them, make a two-pair-hand. The Joker is dealt and the Queen becomes superfluous, so the Joker unceremoniously dismisses her. As he can become any card, he could be a seven or a ten, making the hand a full-house.

The next 'deal' is a straight flush the two, three, four, five and six of hearts. They are confident and work as a team, so when the Joker tries to intervene, they snub him. The last hand holds the ten, Jack, King and Ace of Spades, who are not pleased to see the two of Diamonds she is spoiling their chances of winning. However, she is undeterred and dances with enthusiasm. The Joker arrives, and transforms himself into the Queen of Spades (complete with crown and tutu!). He overcomes the other cards' suspicions and joins them to make the hand a Royal Flush, via a parody of The Sleeping Beauty! Finally, the Joker brings all three hands back on stage, as each quotes steps from their own deal. In the end, he has control of all the cards and triumphantly leads them on a wild chase.


These notes were taken from a longer article that appears in the spring 2008 edition of Entrechat, the magazine of the BRB Friends, and which also featured examples of the Benesh Movement Notation used to record and restage this ballet.
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