February 23, 2011, 2:17 pm
Paul McCartney Collaborates With City Ballet
By DANIEL J. WAKIN
In an unexpected intersection of celebrity pop music and ballet, that most refined of the performing arts, Paul McCartney has written a major orchestral work for New York City Ballet.
Richard Perry/The New York Times Paul McCartney, above at the Apollo Theater in December, has written an orchestral work for New York City Ballet.
It is a love story titled “Ocean’s Kingdom” and will be performed at the company’s fall gala on Sept. 22 and on other yet-to-be determined dates next season, Mr. McCartney and company officials said. Peter Martins, the company’s ballet master in chief, will create the choreography.
In its current state, the ballet lasts about 45 to 50 minutes, is divided into four acts and will feature a cast of about 40 to 45, including four or five main roles. A composer, John Wilson, is helping with the final orchestration, and the first act is to be played through at the David H. Koch Theater, the company’s home, on Thursday.
The other half of the gala program will consist of George Balanchine’s “Union Jack,” a sprawling work that Mr. Martins said would be a tribute to City Ballet’s latest Liverpudlian contributor.
Mr. McCartney first mentioned that he was working on a ballet score in an interview with the BBC in June, then set off speculative babble among balletomanes and pop music fans this month when he said at an awards ceremony in London that an announcement about the piece was coming soon.
In his first interview about the work, Mr. McCartney on Wednesday called it “basically a romantic story” involving two worlds — the ocean kingdom, representing purity, and the earth kingdom, “the sort of baddies.” The daughter of the ocean king falls in love with the brother of the earth king, and “you’ll have to see whether the couple make it,” Mr. McCartney said. “There’s all sort of troubles along the way.”
Mr. McCartney has long staked a claim in the world of classical music, and branching out into ballet music is just his latest foray into other realms. He has published books of poetry and children’s literature, and mounted shows of his paintings.
Mr. Martins said the idea of a collaboration popped into his head when he ran into Mr. McCartney at a fund-raiser for the School of American Ballet, the company’s training ground, a year ago.
“Of course, being a Beatles fan — because that’s my generation — I was very intrigued,” Mr. Martins said. “I knew of course about his foray into classical music and his interest in it. I said to him, ‘Maybe we could do something together.’ ”
The two men said that over the course of the year they consulted regularly.
“This is Paul’s baby,” Mr. Martins said, adding with tongue in cheek, “The only thing he has left to do is choreograph.” He said Mr. McCartney created the libretto on his own.
“He knows exactly what this is going to look like,” Mr. Martins said. “He even has choreographic suggestions. He did a nice little jump for me. I said, ‘To me, Paul, that needs work.’ ”
Mr. McCartney said he took up the suggestion because “I can’t refuse an offer,” especially one to do something fresh and challenging.
“I’ve come to love working with orchestras,” he said. “It’s a great palette.”
He wrote some “speculative” music and began reading about dance and attending ballet performances.
“For me, the sheer athleticism is the most astounding thing about what I’m seeing,” he said. “It’s like a meeting of the Olympic games and art, and I find that fascinating and challenging for me, to see what can be done.”