Ballet, which began life in Western Europe during the Renaissance, is danced all over the globe with many accents. The many ways in which it can be (and seem) American often occupied the mind of the Russian-born choreographer George Balanchine, who moved to New York in 1933 and became an American citizen in 1939. The very title of his ballet “Square Dance” tells you that he was thinking of America.
Yet here, as so often, Balanchine’s thoughts were indirect. His music was from the European Baroque, Vivaldi and Corelli, but this ballet tells everyone that these composers are now American property too. The steps and manners combine those of ballet and those of American square dancing; so do its patterns and structures.
“Square Dance” returns this week (Feb. 2-10) to the repertory of New York City Ballet, the company for which it was made. It is informally formal, polite and virtuoso, sweet and outgoing. I’m especially fond of a passage in the finale when the men and women, holding hands, in couples, kick the air behind them with one foot: not an academic ballet step at all, just a folk moment, and wonderfully fresh. When the ballet was new, Balanchine clinched the connection by having a caller onstage whose rhyming lines included “See those feet go wickety-whack!”