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Card Game was originally produced by composer Igor Stravinsky and choreographer George Balanchine, the same creative partnership responsible for Apollo and Agon (performed as part of Birmingham Royal Ballet's 2006 and 2007 Stravinsky programmes respectively). The ballet features a series of three 'hands', with the dancers playing the parts of the different cards. As each hand is dealt, the figure of the Joker, who can take on the role of any card, tries to replace one of the cards to sway the game one way or another.
Stravinsky has himself been credited with the idea of basing a ballet on a card game. A keen poker player, he used motifs of playing cards, usually hearts, in a number of ballets, including A Rake's Progress and A Soldier's Tale. But it was the choreographer John Cranko - former resident choreographer for Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet and creator of Birmingham Royal Ballet's productions of Pineapple Poll and Brouillards - who produced this version of the piece for his Stuttgart Ballet in 1965. Calling it Card Game, Cranko simplified the original scenario and introduced a greater element of comedy.
Central to this comedy is the aforementioned figure of the Joker, energetic and keen to join in the game, despite never actually being dealt in any of the original hands. The role itself is demandingly athletic, full of leaps and bounds and energy. Michael O'Hare, Birmingham Royal Ballet's Assistant Ballet Master recently described his experiences of dancing the role, saying: 'It's a very demanding role - I was always exhausted - but there’s a lot of fun to be had!'
As well as this, the original music itself is full of comic flourishes. By the time he created the score, Stravinsky had become adept at impersonating other composers, and makes witty references to them throughout his music. Likewise, Cranko satirised other choreographers, with tongue-in-cheek nods to famous works including the Rose Adagio from The Sleeping Beauty, and the style of Balanchine himself.
While Stravinsky is best-known for his unconventional pieces, with many infamously considered shocking on their debuts, Card Game represents the mischievous side of the composer, with dance that relishes the playful elements whilst still being fiercely physically demanding.
Click here for details of all BRB performances of this ballet currently on sale.
BRB New Media Officer
'I'm looking forward to this piece, and this whole triple bill, in fact. We've done some Stravinsky pieces in the last few years that really broke the mould; incredibly ground-breaking works where everything you read about them notes how important they were in shaping dance today. When I've spoken to people about Card Game, however, I've heard a lot about how much fun it is, and how energetic and athletic the dancing is, which is refreshing as I think you don't always equate 'important' with 'fun'. If you've not seen a lot of ballet before, you might also worry that you'd not understand the relevance. In this case, however, you can just come along, sit back and enjoy!'
Click on the names for individual biographies
Music Igor Stravinsky
Choregraphy John Cranko
Libretto adapted by John Cranko
Designs Dorothee Zippel
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