Dissertation Index

Author: Leaman, Kara Yoo

Title: Analyzing Music and Dance: Balanchine’s Choreography to Tchaikovsky and the Choreomusical Score

Institution: Yale University

Begun: unspecified

Completed: October 2016


George Balanchine was one of the most prolific and influential choreographers of the twentieth century. He was also a skilled musician, trained at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. His ballets have been celebrated for their musicality by prominent dancers and musicians alike. However, the concept of choreographic musicality, and the means by which it is achieved in his ballets, has remained largely elusive. This dissertation analyzes two works that Balanchine set to music by Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky: Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux (1960), set to an interpolation in Swan Lake (1877), and Theme and Variations (1947), set to the fourth movement of the Third Orchestral Suite (1884). The analyses combine perspectives from traditional music analysis, dance transcription, and digital video annotation. The methodology takes advantage of Balanchine’s strong musical literacy to examine, first, the musical scores, as he did, and then his choreographies in relation to the scores. The analyses connect elements of his choreography directly to their probable sources in the music, and they show that Balanchine was guided by discernible priorities in setting dance to music: that dance and music reflect a partnership rather than dominance by one party; that dancers move with unreserved energy, reflected in steps that cross musical boundaries or anticipate musical ideas; and that dance establish a strong relationship with its music before it is free to conflict with it. Balanchine’s choreomusical style encompasses many different types of relationships between music and dance, and he achieved what may be described as musical artistry by a variety of choreographic techniques. The analyses in this study offer a detailed view of important aspects of Balanchine’s multifaceted choreomusical style.

To examine Balanchine’s choreography, this dissertation presents a method for transcribing dance in a music-based notation system that prioritizes the representation of pitch with rhythm. It introduces a new “choreomusical notation” that maps “choreographic pitch” (or, spatial height) onto the vertical axis and “choreographic rhythm” onto the horizontal axis of a musical staff. Using this notation, visual representations of dance and music are aligned in a “choreomusical score,” and analytic paradigms developed in music theory are applied to works of dance with music. Unlike most other systems of dance notation, this choreomusical notation is not intended to capture choreography in a comprehensive way; rather, it is designed to distill some of the most musically salient elements of a dance into notation for the purpose of intermedia analysis. Compared with other choreomusical analyses that use dance notations, this dissertation brings Balanchine’s ballets and their musical scores into closer visual and cognitive proximity. This choreomusical notation can also be adapted to reflect musically salient aspects of other dance styles. Sample analyses in the final chapter show extended applications with excerpts from minuet, Bulgarian folk dancing, cartoon, and rave dancing.

Keywords: dance, Balanchine, Tchaikovsky, choreomusical, notation, transcription, rhythm, metric dissonance, audiovisual


Chapter 1. Introduction
Chapter 2. The Choreomusical Score
Chapter 3. Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux (1960)
Chapter 4. Theme and Variations (1947)
Chapter 5. Balanchine and Beyond: Suggestions for Extended Applications of the Choreomusical Score


Kara Yoo Leaman

     Return to dissertations