Igor Stravinsky’s ballet of 1936 is one of the main works of what is called Neoclassicism. Clarity of form and economy of sound constitute the aesthetic basis of the style, as do the parodies of classical models and foreign styles; and the manner in which Stravinsky uses Rossini, Tchaikovsky and Ravel, as well as Delibes and Strauss, as a means of parody in Jeu de Cartes is not without charm.
John Cranko’s choreography translates three different possibilities of a poker game into dance, without, however, referring to Balanchine’s original choreography. At the beginning of each deal, the cards are shuffled: this is heard in the music as a ritornello. The five cards come on, which in each deal form a hand. The first deal consists of two pairs (two 10s and two 7s) and the Queen of Hearts; then the Joker appears, improves the hand and is able to throw the Queen of Hearts out. The second deal is a straight flush (numbers two to seven). The Joker tries to join in, but of course not wanted, as the hand cannot be improved. Finally in the third deal, the 10, Jack, King and Ace of Spades are joined by the Two of Diamonds, who has the wrong suit and number. The Joker, who can take the place of any card, then appears as the Queen of Spades, and the hand thus becomes the Royal Flush, which is the highest combination possible in Poker. The coda brings all three deals together in a lusty finale.