The Great American Goof (1940)

Original Production - Center Theater at Rockefeller Center, America's First Ballet Theatre (American Ballet Theatre), premiering January 11,1940. 

Producer - American Ballet Theater

Choreographer - Eugene Loring

Music - Henry Brant

Conductor - Alexander Smallens

Scenery & Costumes - Boris Aronson


 Original Cast

Eugene Loring (The Great American Goof)
Miriam Golden (The Woman)
Antony Tudor (The Dummy)
Dimitri Romanoff (Old Man in Prison)
Lucia Chase (A Little Girl)
Vladimir Dokoudovsky (Priest)
Annabelle Lyon (Girl Dancing)



Saroyan wrote The Great American Goof as a dance-drama for Eugene Loring and the American Ballet Theatre (ABT). It was the first production of the first season staged by ABT. 

The reviews of The Great American Goof seem to be split: traditional theatre reviewers, such as Saroyan supporter George Jean Nathan, dismissed it, while dance reviewers reacted positively towards it. 

George Jean Nathan's commentary on the ballet in his book The World of George Jean Nathan - "The Great American Goof is a case in point. Not only is there no dancing in it worthy of the name, that is, outside a hospital ball for arteriosclerosis patients, but American speech has intermittently been provided the hoofers who, being foreigners, speak it like so many chipped Berlitz Russian and Swedish records. Supplement all this with scenery projected by colored magic-lantern slides which periodically act like jitterbugs and mingle an intended factory scene with a previous Ritz salon, or whatever it is meant to be, and you begin to get a faint idea that if you lay out that nickel I was talking about you will get the bad end of the bargain."

John Martin of the New York Times wrote ion January 12, 1940, "The 'Goof' is nothing that can be swallowed at a gulp; it demands a concentrated attention that the average balletomane is totally unaccustomed to giving. This is in a was its major fault, but in the nature of the experiment it is difficult to understand how it could be avoided. It was extremely well danced and acted last night, by Loring in the title role, Anthony Tudor, Miriam Golden, Lucia Chase and the rest of a long and complicated cast.  Henry Brant's music seemed to be helpful, but in so demanding a mixture of elements, it is virtually impossible to say more of it at one hearing. Here is a work that is worth seeing and re-seeing, for it is definitely an important piece of theatrical experimentation." 

The Lincoln Star said of The Great American Goof - "The ballet play is, Saroyan announces, a new American form as he writes it. In any case it is new to ballet, since his characters speak lines - very snappy lines, some of them. Instead of sets in the usual sense there are flats; upon which colored slides play, and the costuming is a cross between Bakst and Dali. Both sets and costumes are by Boris Aronson, and the amusing music is by Henry Brant."

 Time magazine reported - "As usual by Saroyan, critics were baffled; some thought the experiment goofy, some thought it just goo, some thought it really good. None could deny it was full to the lips of life." 

 The piece is included in Razzle-Dazzle.


Associated Materials:


In the Forever Saroyan collection:  

Ballet Theatre program, 1940, program for inaugural season including The Great American Goof, PB018




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