Sinfonia was created in 1959 along with Divertissement d'Auber and Caprice in preparation for San Francisco Ballet's third international tour. As with a number of other Christensen ballets from this period, Sinfonia was designed to fill San Francisco Ballet's need for a touring repertory and has remained a staple of the company's repertory since its premier.
Christensen chose to set the ballet to Luigi Boccherini's Sinfonia in A Major, opus 37. The music's abstract form allowed Christensen to pursue free and dynamic balletic movement with the absence of plot intensifying the focus on the choreography. "The music suggests the dance with its form, rhythm and melodic line," said Christensen. The reflections of Boccherini's music in the choreography are unmistakable, especially in its variations on repeated themes, its pairing of solo dancer and solo instrument, and its courtly gestures and irrepressible exuberance.
Dick Moore, writing for the San Francisco arts magazine Listen described Sinfonia:
"The piece is a gloriously palatable abstract ballet choreographed to Boccherini music and set in four movements. There was more genuine creativity, artistic form, charm and intelligence in any one of the individual movements from this work than might be found in most ballets. When a gifted choreographer such as Christensen delivers such inspiring messages with such valid communication within an ordered, imaginatively creative framework of the dignity of Sinfonia, then he has created more than just a good ballet. He has created an art work."
"Christensen proceeds in the last three movements of the ballet to intensify his points of the "beauty of freedom" with variations in mood and atmosphere. Where the first movement is pithy, sophisticated and sharp witted, the second is jocular and less subtle in form. This fun-for-fun's-sake leads into the beautiful third movement which contains some exquisitely conceived lyric choreography."
"The fourth movement brings all dancers on stage for the exhilarating finale which consummates this delightful musical work. If Sinfonia is an indication of Lew Christensen's future creations, audiences may expect to be treated to some stunning, meaty new ballets in the future."
"Ultra-creatively conceived abstract ballet to Boccherini music which sets the music before the audience's eyes. Bold, sharply modern and witty, Sinfonia is 100% dance beauty and delight within a classical ballet form." Dick Moore, Leisure Time Activities.
Photograph: David Anderson, Betsy Erickson, Vane Vest, and Jim Sohm in the 1981 San Francisco Ballet performances of Sinfonia. Photo by Nora Scarlett.
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