Synopsis: Jinx tells the macabre and melancholy tale of a small circus troupe plagued by misfortune. The central character, the sad and melancholy clown Jinx, is blamed for the bad luck for he always seems to be present when mishaps occur. The performers cruelly harass Jinx, ultimately causing his death but find that they have not rid themselves of the "jinx" whose implacable spirit returns to haunt them.
"The setting for the ballet is simple," wrote George Balanchine in his classic book The Stories of the Great Ballets. Two white poles on either side of the stage reach up toward the center of an invisible tent. The back curtains are drawn aside slightly as an entrance to a circus ring. Gaily colored performing boxes are arranged on the left and in the center of the stage. On top of one of the boxes stands a beautiful young wire walker dressed in pink. Sitting at her feet is a young bareback rider, obviously her lover. He takes the girl's hands and turns her in arabesque, slowly, as if they were performing before a quiet but attentive audience.
A forlorn clown enters and watches the girl. She does not notice his presence but it is apparent that he, too, longs for her. He dances for a moment, assuming attitudes that make him appear grimly sad. As the girl rises to leave the clown catches her in his arms. He holds her but only for an instant, for the girl breaks away in fright at the intimacy. Two men, the troupe's ringmaster and one of the wire walkers have quietly entered and observed the scene.
Three girls enter. Two are bareback riders and they go through a rehearsal of their act. The grotesque clown joins the wire walker and the boy and the three men turn cart wheels in a vigorous athletic routine. In the middle of one of their tricks the boy falls. As the wire walker helps him up he looks long and suspiciously at the clown. In a revealing moment the melancholy clown becomes "Jinx," the bearer of bad luck and the cause of the troupe's misfortunes.
Suddenly the ringmaster runs in and with a crack of his whip rouses the company into an ensemble dance. At the conclusion they bow and leave the stage while through the entrance to the ring walk three girls in long capes. Their backs are to the audience. One by one they turn and perform a brief dance revealing their strange physical curiosities. The first girl drops her cape to reveal a body completely covered with tattoos. The second, the Strong Lady flexes her muscles in attitudes, while the third, the Bearded Lady, conceals her face with a large orange ostrich feather. They briefly dance together, don their capes as if great ladies and walk off in stately fashion.
Next the bareback riders perform. The ringmaster stands in the center coaxing them with his whip while around and around him the two girls and the boy ride their imaginary horses in a bravura performance. As they exit, Jinx is rolled in on a wheelbarrow where he sits smelling a bouquet of rotten flowers and vegetables. The wire walker presents parasols to his two female partners and in a line across the stage each does a turn on an imaginary high wire. The lovely young girl in pink displays her skill first. Jinx climbs up on the boxes to watch her performance more closely. The girl is unsteady at his nearness, however, Jinx cannot take his eyes off her. Suddenly the girl slips and begins to fall. She is caught just in time as Jinx rushes to comfort her. The ringmaster, blaming Jinx for the mishap takes up the whip and drives him from the ring.
The entire circus is thrown into confusion and terror. Jinx flees, pursued by the ringmaster viciously cracking the whip close behind him. He stumbles, falls, and the ringmaster brings his whip down, savagely lashing the clown over and over to punctuated chords from the orchestra. The troupe turns away in horror as the pitiful clown writhes in agony, straightens out, and, with a spasmodic tremble, dies. The Bearded Lady who secretly loved Jinx grieves for him in a passionate dance that reveals her pathetic attachment. The Tattooed Lady and the Strong Lady try to comfort her, but she is inconsolable. Jinx is placed on the wheelbarrow and the troupe forms a funeral cortege, marching slowly behind the body, bowing their heads rhythmically. They place the body high on the boxes and bow their heads.
The music becomes ghostly as the company senses that something is wrong. They turn to look at the body but it is not there. They separate the boxes, take them down, but the body has vanished. Unknown, the ghost of Jinx has entered behind them. He lifts the forgotten whip and, cracking it, forces them to dance around him. He urges them on faster and faster. Exhausted, they gradually collapse. The boy tries to lift the girl but she cannot stand by herself, falling forward over his supporting arms in an attitude of helplessness. Jinx takes the girl's hand to comfort her but at his touch she dies, falling across her lover's body. From behind the curtain, the other members of the circus troupe have observed the scene with dread. The clown Jinx slowly turns and glares intensely at them. "You may have destroyed my flesh," he seems to say, "but you can never rid yourselves of my curse."
Jinx was created for Eugene Loring's Dance Players, a continuation of the original Kirstein/Ballet Caravan idea of presenting dramatic story ballets with an American theme. Early in 1949, Christensen, then ballet master of the newly established New York City Ballet, came to San Francisco to prepare the company's spring season which included the San Francisco premier of Jinx. Jinx, holds an important place in San Francisco Ballet's history as the first Christensen work to enter the company's repertory.
At its 1942 premier Jinx was praised as an American Petrouchka, a tense, eerie theater piece. John Martin, writing in the New York Times described it as "quite the most distinguished piece introduced by Dance Players...utterly without precedent." Roslyn Krokover, writing in the Borzoi Book of Ballets described the 1942 production as "approaching a quality that has not been otherwise achieved in contemporary ballet."
Shortly after its San Francisco Ballet premier, Jinx was restaged for the New York City Ballet. For these performances John Martin, again writing for the New York Times praised Jinx as "a work of inherent stature, unusual, and impressive...a gripping piece with philosophical overtones." Walter Terry, writing for the New York Herald Tribune predicted Jinx would become "one of the major items in the New York City Ballet's splendid repertory."
Jinx was among the ballets presented by New York City Ballet during its landmark 1950 London debut where it was acclaimed by British critics who, perplexed by Balanchine's "heartless and gymnastic" abstractions, were more attracted to Jinx's rich dramatic roles, atmosphere, and plot. "Jinx has a scenario that is a cross between Pagliachi and Petrouchka," wrote the London Times. "Danced to the music of Britten, Christensen has certainly compassed a ballet of admirable impact and dramatic concentration." L. J. H. Bradley, writing in the British journal Ballet noted the way the music perfectly underscored the action: "Most remarkable is the skill with which Christensen has arranged his story so that each incident exactly matches the moods of the contrasting sections of Britten's music."
Jinx was a staple in the San Francisco Ballet repertory throughout the 1950s and was performed during the company's prestigious East Coast debut at Jacob's Pillow as well as on all three of San Francisco Ballet's international State Department tours. In addition to performances by San Francisco Ballet and New York City Ballet, Jinx has been staged by the Joffrey ballet making it, along with Con Amore, among the most frequently performed of Christensen's one-act ballets.
In 1999 the Oakland Ballet restaged Jinx making it the first Christensen ballet performed in the Bay Area by a company other than San Francisco Ballet. The restaging was nominated for the 1999-2000 Isadora Duncan Dance Award.
Photograph top: Tracy Kai Maier and Vane Vest in the 1984 KQED television production of Jinx, bottom: Jamie Zimmerman, Anita Pacciotti, and Laurie Cowden as the Three Ladies. Photos by William Acheson.
Back to:The Choreography of Lew Christensen, Home Page.