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Pirouettes like Jagger: inside the unlikely Rolling Stones ballet

“I hope you’re going to enjoy this wonderful, new ballet. And the music, of course.”

That was part of the tongue-in-cheek audio-only introduction courtesy of Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, unveiling his and partner Melanie Hamrick’s ballet inspired by the music of the rocker’s band. Dubbed Porte Rogue, it had its North American premiere at New York’s David H Koch Theater at Lincoln Center on Thursday night.

The evening featured a buffet platter of both alumni and current members of the non-profit dancing organization, among them Hamrick; a veteran ballerina who choreographed the performance with orchestration by Jagger himself. The singer attended the event two short weeks after undergoing heart surgery.

Halfway through the gala performance, which was meant to shine a light on the 20th anniversary year of the Youth America Grand Prix and also featured speaker Cicely Tyson, the lights went down and Jagger’s unmistakable voice came over the loudspeaker introducing the number, which had its world debut last month at St Petersburg, Russia’s Mariinsky Theatre.

So what exactly does a ballet inspired by the music of the Rolling Stones ential? Accented by vivid colors and an intricate lighting design, the performance utilizes the band’s original tracks and opens with the iconic bongos and Jagger’s yelps from their 1968 hit Sympathy for the Devil, which itself was the opening song of their seminal album Beggars Banquet.

From there, eight dancers including Christine Shevchenko of the American Ballet Theater and Daniel Ulbricht of the New York City Ballet brought Porte Rouge to life with an infusion of emotion and drama. Changing moods, the dainty piano hook of She’s a Rainbow then rang through the theater, with the 1967 song interrupted on stage not only through dance, but perhaps most appropriately by a litany of colors that illuminated both the stage and on a large screen behind the performers.

Subsequently, both the set’s colors and the mood starkly changed again, with the stage appropriately going totally dark during the performance’s final number, Paint it Black, which was brought to life with as much drama as the 1966 song itself. With that, the fifteen minute long performance came to an end, with Hamrick coming out on stage and taking a bow with her dancers.

“We really worked together, and he just said ‘Trust your gut, what do you feel,” Hamrick later told the Associated Press of collaborating with Jagger. “(He said) ‘When you close your eyes and dance, go with what your instincts are and I’ll help you find the cuts. (Then it was) how do we make it work for a ballet audience? I pretty much picked the songs I felt I connected with the most. He was very good. He was like, ‘You do you.’”

According to Hamrick, she didn’t want to “imitate. I wanted you to feel the essence, and I didn’t want him to tell me what to do because I wanted it to be original”.

Despite keeping a low profile at the event (Jagger reportedly said “When I go to a fund-raiser, it’s like Santa Claus at Macy’s: Everyone wants to sit on my lap and have a photo taken”) it was the singer’s first public outing since undergoing a trans-catheter aortic valve replacement three weeks ago. He later released a statement saying he was “on the mend”.

The gala evening for the Youth America Grand Prix, which bills itself as the world’s largest dance scholarship audition, was co-chaired in part by Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen.

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