Cleveland Ballet performs Balanchine-choreographed ‘Serenade’ and premieres ‘Symphony of Life’
Cleveland Ballet will close its season at Playhouse Square with two noteworthy, one-act performances – “Serenade” and the world premiere of “Symphony of Life” – at 7 p.m., April 21-22.

Cleveland Ballet dancers practice George Balanchine's choreography to Pytor Tchaikovsky's 'Serenade.' (Photo by New Image Photography) Serenade Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cleveland Ballet will close its Playhouse Square season with two noteworthy, one-act performances – “Serenade” and the world premiere of “Symphony of Life” – at 7 p.m., April 21-22.

Both will be accompanied by the newly created Cleveland Ballet Orchestra, a diverse group of 25 talented musicians from around the nation - many from Northeast Ohio.

“Serenade,” composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and choreographed by the legendary George Balanchine, is a historically notable presentation. It was the first performance choreographed by the master for the School of American Ballet.

Related: The Cleveland Ballet debuts a new orchestra at season finale in April

Balanchine is noteworthy as the father of American ballet and a founder of the neoclassical style. His work is characterized by plotless ballets with sparse costuming and décor. He was known to choreograph for the music, not the story.

“We were ecstatic to get ‘Serenade.’ It was his first work here in America. It’s historical,” says Gladisa Guadalupe, artistic director and co-founder of the eight-year-old Cleveland Ballet. “It’s so important for companies. For me, it’s very special.”

“Balanchine is the master of American ballet. When he left his country and came to USA, he created a new style of ballet. It’s timeless. He was ahead of his time. He knew how to use a body in different ways, shapes, and forms.,” she says. “He’s part of the history of ballet. Every company desires to have his work. Originally it was just for the New York City Ballet. Slowly other companies inquired, only a selective few started getting permission.

“To have a Balanchine work in your repertoire is to say you have made it,” she says. “It’s credibility. For us to bring this year was phenomenal.”

Bringing Balanchine’s work to Cleveland required the creation of an orchestra. “When we started doing the talks with the George Balanchine Trust, they highly recommended that we do this piece with an orchestra. So, that’s where we are today.”

The second piece, “Symphony of Life,” was created by Israeli composer Anna Segal and choreographed by Ilia Zhivoi. This work marks Cleveland Ballet’s first commissioned musical score and the second ballet performed with a live orchestra.

Guadalupe describes it as “neoclassical” and “very European.”

“It’s about destiny,” she says, refusing to give away any plot. “You have to come see it. The male dancer is deciding his destiny.” His choices are muse or fate.

Cleveland Ballet dancers Katharine Cowan, Marla Aleyda and Emanuel Tavares practice for 'Symphony of Life.' (Photo by New Image Photography)

Emanuel Tavares, a two-year veteran of the company from Brazil, is that dancer. And he works physically hard to perform the lead.

“I love the challenge of being on the stage from the beginning to the end,” he says. “As soon as I start dancing, I don’t leave the ballet until the end. One of my first solos is my favorite.”

“I love the whole concept of the piece,” he says. “It’s nice to do a contemporary, neo-classical ballet and learn so much.”

This is the first contemporary work for Marla Aleyda, a native Clevelander who’s in her fifth year of the ballet, and one of the two female leads for “Symphony of Life.”

“It is a lot of work,” she says. “I’ve never done contemporary work before. I love ballet, but I never thought I could do contemporary work. It didn’t click with me.

“When Mr. Ilia did our audition, I thought there was no way I would be cast in it. When the casting came out, I was really shocked. The hardest part is letting go of being a ballerina for a minute and connecting emotionally with the piece more than just physically,” she says.

“For contemporary work, you have to really be able to let yourself go. There’s not as much as structure as in ballet and I’m a very structured person. It’s difficult for me to let go and move freely,” she continues.

“To make the piece speak to the audience, you have to find a piece of yourself in the character,” she notes. “Once Mr. Ilia started choreographing, I saw more of myself in the character he was developing. I can relate more to the muse as a gentle and forgiving being. I want to see more of that in myself.”

“My favorite part is really connecting to my character and finding parts I can make me.

Katharine Cowan, who’s in her fourth season with the company and hails from Seattle, enjoyed the challenges of this brand-new piece.

“It’s actually really fun to do because I’ve done a lot of younger people,” says the dancer, who is 5-foot, 2-inches tall and the other female lead. “I’m used to doing bright, springy, happy characters,” she says. “This is a fun challenge to play something a lot more serious and mature. It’s an intense character, but not scary. It’s fun to play something like that.”

“It’s been fascinating to work with this choreographer because he knows exactly what he wants from the choreography,” she says. “There’s more detail. He does contemporary ballet and has such specific details that he wants me to convey.”

Individual tickets are available through Cleveland Ballet Ticketing, at (216) 320-9000 x 107 or

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