BWW Review: NEW YORK CITY BALLET Offers a Winning Jerome Robbins Triple Bill
On the evening of Saturday, February 25th 2017 at the Koch Theater, a triple bill showed off the versatility and genius of Jerome Robbins, who with George Balanchine was a Founding Choreographer of NYCB.
Glass Pieces, the 1983 work to the music of minimalist composer Philip Glass, has long been a favorite of mine. The current production did not disappoint. A perfect opener, the ballet mostly moves at breakneck speed. Pedestrian walking, innovative when the ballet was created although overused by more recent choreographers, is interspersed with thrilling yet smoothly accomplished lifts. The costumes by Ben Benson are colorful but appropriately spare with leotards and short wrap skirts for the ladies and tights and shirts for the men as well as unitards for lead couples. One particularly fascinating section involves the female corps as shadows advancing from upstage left to upstage right with a rhythmic, inventive gait while featured dancers perform downstage.
Next up was Moves, which premiered in 1959 as part of "Jerome Robbins' Ballets: U.S.A". The subtitle is "A Ballet in Silence". There is no accompaniment. The only sounds are the dancers' occasional clapping and stomping. Robbins' quirky sense of humor emerges now and then, such as when a male dancer unexpectedly drops his female partner. The audience gasped at first and then roared with laughter after the realization sank in that the moment was intentional. In Robbins own words: "The music acts as a base for the spectators' responses to the happenings on stage and creates a pervasive atmosphere for reaction. Moves severs that guidance and permits the audience to respond solely to the action of the dance, to become aware of the potential to gesture, to respond directly to the curiosity of movement, and to be released from the associations evoked by scenery, costumes, and music."
Ah, but the best was saved for last. On that rainy Friday, Robbins' 1956 The Concert chased the chill and warmed our hearts with broad comedy perfectly timed by the dancers as well as pianist Elaine Chelton playing Chopin on stage at a grand piano. I've seen this ballet many times, yet I always find it laugh-out-loud funny - especially the "Mistake Waltz" in which an ensemble of tutu clad ladies can't pull off the piece without hilarious error after error. Also great fun is the whacky butterfly sequence that closes the ballet, in particular when the pianist goes off stage to get a huge butterfly net and returns to try to capture the dancers who are furiously flapping their costume wings as they endeavor to elude her.
If you missed the All Robbins bill during NYCB's Winter Season, you can catch it during the Spring Season on April 19th, 20th, 22nd, with one difference. Glass Pieces will be replaced by Fancy Free, a delightful romp about Three Sailors on shore leave. Choreographed in 1944 to the music of Leonard Bernstein, this was Robbins' first ballet and it is the inspiration for the musical On the Town.
Photo by Paul Kolnik