The single act ballet La concurrence (The Competition) was choreographed by George Balanchine for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo's opening program in 1932. Unlike this season's other new productions, which used pre-existing scores, the music for La concurrence was collaboratively composed by Georges Auric. Set and costumes were created by Andre Derain, who was also responsible for the libretto.
Set in the late 1890s, the narrative of La concurrence depicts the rivalry between two tailors with shops facing each other on a town square. Customers emerge wearing costumes created by each tailor in his attempt to outdo the other - creating an amusing exploration of the influence of clothing on personality. While the work depends heavily on mime and detailed characterisation, technical virtuosity is also required in elements such as the crowd-pleasing fouette competition. The lead role of the Young Girl, which can be seen as forming a vital link between the two stage groupings of the adults and children, was created on thirteen year-old Tamara Toumanova. She was joined in the fouette competition by the two other adolescent girls who, along with Toumanova, were to become known as the 'baby ballerinas' - Tatiana Riabouchinska and Irina Baronova. Balanchine's fine eye for characterisation was augmented by Leon Woizikowsky's acclaimed interpretation in creating the role of the Tramp.
Despite its immediate popularity, La concurrence was viewed by some critics as a shallow return to pantomime. Apparently Balanchine, after viewing the work from the front of house for the first time, commented that he was 'through forever with that kind of stuff'. It was, however, very well received by the press in Australia, where it was performed by the Covent Garden Russian Ballet, premiering in Melbourne on October 6, 1938. Baronova danced in this production as the Young Girl, Edouard Borovansky and Yura Lazovsky as the Tailors, and Yurek Shabelevsky as the Vagabond. The review of this 'witty and sophisticated character ballet' appeared in the Argus on October 7, hailing Balanchine as 'the most individual choreographer after Massine', and asserting that 'Balanchine's humour does not lie in the incidents of the story, but in his freakish sense of the grotesque, his witty burlesques of character, and his surprising angular line.' Photographs of eight-year old June Mackay, selected to dance a child role in the ballet, had featured in the Argus the previous day.
Following the Australian tour, the role of the Young Girl was performed by Natasha Sobovina (Rosemary Deveson), who later recounted learning the role in a hotel bathroom with Baronova humming the music. La concurrence then disappeared from the Ballets Russes repertoire. The Derain decor, noted for its sophisticated focus on flat surface, was never seen again - although some maquettes do exist in private collections. Various theories account for its disappearance - that it was shipped to Germany for the Berlin season and never returned, that it was used by de Basil as collateral for his debts, and, perhaps the most widely accepted, that it was among the decors destroyed in a Montreal warehouse following the 1941 tour.
Kathrine Sorley Walker, De Basil's Ballets Russes (London: Hutchinson, 1982); Vicente Garcia-Marquez, The Ballets Russes: Colonel de Basil's Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo 1932-1952 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990); 'Brilliant Dancing: Ballet season', The Argus, 7 October 1938, p. 2 ; 'For the Ballet', The Argus, 6 October 1938; Richard Buckle, George Balanchine: Ballet Master (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1988); Leland Windreich (comp & ed), Dancing for de Basil: Letters to her Parents from Rosemary Deveson (Toronto: Dance Collection Press/es, 1996)
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