When choreographing Pulcinella with Jerome Robbins, Balanchine created a libretto of his own. The ballet combines the traditional Italian commedia dell’arte figure with aspects of Goethe’s Faust character. Beginning with Pulcinella’s funeral procession, the ballet depicts his resurrection through a pact with the devil, his continued career of mockery, petty crime, and debauchery, his defeat of the devil at a spaghetti feast, and a celebration of his victory by dancing. Pulcinella was first choreographed by Léonide Massine in 1920 for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), born in Russia, is acknowledged as one of the great composers of the twentieth century. His work encompassed styles as diverse as Romanticism, Neoclassicism, and Serialism. His ballets for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes included The Firebird, Petrushka, The Rite of Spring, and Apollo. His music has been used in over thirty ballets originating with New York City Ballet from 1948 through 1987, including Danses Concertantes, Orpheus, The Cage, Agon, Monumentum pro Gesualdo, Rubies, Symphony in Three Movements, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Concerto for Two Solo Pianos, Suite from L’Histoire du Soldat, Concertino, and Jeu de Cartes.