Stravinsky and the Elephant Ballet

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George Balanchine and one of the performers
Sometimes All it Takes to Turn a Mad Idea to Greatness is Having the Determination and Audacity to Follow Through

Miles White - A costume designer for Broadway musicals and contributor to Barnum And Bailey's Circus - had a mad idea. What if you could create a ballet where the main stars would be up to fifty elephants? And what if you not only got one of the world's most talented choreographers to direct it, but also the world's most famous composer to write the music?

In 1942 he managed to do just that, recruiting George Balanchine to act as the choreographer of what he hoped to be 50 elephants and their ballerinas in one of the greatest spectacles he could imagine. Balanchine also had the unenviable task of convincing the Stravinski to join the team and compose the musical accompaniment that these elephants would dance to.

Stravinski, naturally, had his doubts, but Balanchine had been thinking of a similar project for some time, so was just the man to convince him. Apparently the conversation went something like this:

"I wondered if you'd like to do a little ballet with me, a polka perhaps?"
"For Whom?"
"For some elephants."
"...How old?"
"Very young."
"All right... If they are very young elephants, I will do it."

The whole enterprise was a roaring success. Accompanied by Stravinski's 'Circus Polka' (listen below) the spectacle both entertained the audience and impressed the critics. The New York Times reported: 'The ballet of elephants was breathtaking. they came into the ring in an artificial blue-lighted dusk...In the centre ring Modoc the elephant danced with amazing grace ....closing in perfect cadence with the crashing finale." Joined by ballet dancers that rode the elephants and danced alongside the clever animals,  it clear that this was something very special.

"No one thought it could be done." Mile White remembered before his death at age 85 in 2000. "They all thought I was crazy! So of course I was determined to do it."

-Miles white Wikipedia
-Miles White IMDB
-Stravinski's ballard for Elephants 1942
-Circus Polka Music
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