Balanchine’s ballet “Seven Deadly Sins,” with Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil’s libretto and score, was premièred by the New York City Ballet in 1958. Balanchine had created a first version of the work 25 years earlier for the Paris season of the short-lived Les Ballets 1933.
In the Paris production the dual role of Anna — a young woman who ventures on a geographically improbable tour of the United States with a new sin waiting in each city — was taken by Lotte Lenya, Weill’s wife, and the dancer Tilly Losch. In 1958 Balanchine made use of the innocent beauty and dramatic talents of the young Allegra Kent, with Lenya again taking the part of the singing alter ego.
More than 40 years later “Seven Deadly Sins” is returning to City Ballet, but it is not a revival of the Balanchine work. The ballet has been choreographed by Lynne Taylor-Corbett.
The New York Times comments:
It’s a testament to the fragile life of a dance that, despite the critical success of “Sins” in 1933 and 1958 (“a rare and marvelous piece of theater that nobody should miss,” John Martin wrote of the later production in The New York Times), it faded from the repertory, almost without a trace.
“Perhaps 20 years ago it could have been put back together,” Ms. Kent said in a telephone interview, adding that while she remembered her own part fairly well, there was such a complex series of entrances and exits that she had very little idea what other people had done.
It’s astonishing to think that a critically acclaimed work created by Balanchine, Brecht and Weill (with the 1958 translation of the lyrics into English by W. H. Auden and Chester Kalman) could have left so little trace. But circumstances, and lack of routine filming of works at that time, seem to have conspired. Ms. Kent, who never had an understudy for the role, had just had a baby when Balanchine wanted to bring the piece back in the ’60s. Later, Lenya wasn’t available; nor was Barbra Streisand, whom Ms. Kent said Balanchine considered for her part. The vital transmission of a dance from one generation to another, in rehearsal and through physical memory, was lost.
There are many varied versions of the ballet by choreographers as diverse as Pina Bausch and Kenneth MacMillan. But Taylor-Corbett wanted to take the ballet back home, to the NYCB and thought that principal Wendy Whelan was ideal casting. It was her idea too to ask Broadway belter Patti LuPone to assume the singing role. LuPone was delighted:
I was really happy that Lynne came to me. Ever since I was very young I’ve never understood why I wasn’t cast in more Brecht-Weill, because I thought I was suited to it. Now it’s finally happening. When I was with the Acting Company, we spent summers in Saratoga, and I’d watch Gelsey Kirkland, Suzanne Farrell, Allegra Kent, Peter Martins. And I’ve been a huge fan of Wendy’s for years. It’s divine for me to be able to sing this with New York City Ballet now.”
Photo: Patti LuPone and Wendy Whelan by Paul Kolnik