For all its exuberant patriotic touches, Stars and Stripes contains as much pure dancing as many full-length classical ballets. The work is divided into five “campaigns,” each of which uses different Sousa themes. The fourth campaign is a pas de deux, variations, and coda set to the “Liberty Bell” and “El Capitan” marches.
When asked why he chose to choreograph a ballet to Sousa’s marches, Balanchine replied: “Because I like his music.”
Stars and Stripes has been performed for many memorable occasions, including Nelson Rockefeller’s inauguration as governor of New York, tributes for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and the opening ceremonies for the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center. The ballet is dedicated to the memory of Fiorello H. LaGuardia, mayor of New York City and founder of the City Center of Music and Drama.
John Philip Sousa (1854-1932), the “March King,” was an important figure in the history of American bands and American band music. He enlisted as an apprentice in the Marine Band in 1868, serving for almost seven years. In 1876 he joined Offenbach’s orchestra at the centennial exposition in Philadelphia. In 1880, at the age of 25, he became the leader of the United States Marine Band, a post he held for over 12 years. A Sousa concert usually consisted of 25 to 36 pieces, one of which was, inevitably, The Stars and Stripes Forever.
Hershy Kay (1919-1981) established himself as a preeminent orchestrator of musicals with Leonard Bernstein’s On The Town in 1944. His works for ballet include Cakewalk, Clowns, Western Symphony, The Concert, Stars and Stripes, Who Cares? and Union Jack; his works for musical theater include Peter Pan, Once Upon a Mattress, Candide, A Chorus Line, Evita, and Barnum. A composer in his own right, Hershy Kay also reconstructed Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s Grande Tarantelle for Piano and Orchestra, which later became the Balanchine ballet Tarantella. Mr. Kay’s work also includes a children’s record, Mother Goose.