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Jerry Robbins on Relationships

by Richard Penberthy
June 2, 2007
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
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New York, NY 10023
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Saturday, June 2, 2007, 8:00 PM

Essential Robbins: In G Major, Dances at a Gathering, I'm Old Fashioned

Choreography by Jerome Robbins
Conductor: Faycal Karoui
"In G Major" is set to the Concerto in G Major (en sol) for Piano and Orchestra by Maurice Ravel, composed over a few years (1928-31) following his triumphant trip to America - ergo the jazziness. The Erte set and costumes are carry-overs from an early staging by the Paris Opera Ballet, which produced the ballet as "En Sol". To the guessing translator, that sounds as if it might mean – in Esperanto if nothing else – 'in the sun,' which would account for the minimal but beach-like set. Actually, it refers to sol, as in do, re, me, fa, sol, and therefore to G major: the fifth degree of the major scale. It is a true concerto, with heavy lifting for the pianist – Elaine Chelton in this performance – but also a pastiche of jazz, big band, and cinematic swells.

The dancers are all in pastel maillot swimsuit-like tops, the women's self-skirted and men in white tights. The tops have white horizontal stripes, scalloped, with point down, which echo the set - the same wavy stripes, point up, are painted on the backdrop to suggest waves. The rest of the backdrop comprises circle shapes as rather soap-bubbly clouds and a geometric sunburst that looks as if it were made up of broadswords. Given that Erte's late designs were attenuated and ornate, one is relieved at the simplicity of the set and costumes.

Robbins frequently explored the fragile nature of relationships, of attractions; and, in this thoughtful ballet there are those moments of attraction that turn to dust, enthusiastic approaches that make U-turns, reachings out that are ignored. And, although it is all in the context of – one supposes – adolescent beach time and 'practice' courtships, it is also key to the success, to the fascination of this dance that – despite the jazzy concerto – real emotions, real limerance, the sting of disappointment, come through. Robbins's emotional language is dance - it's how he tells the story and tolls the heart; he doesn't rely on the acting skills of the dancers. Centered in the dance is a long pas de deux, a main event that idealizes a relationship, makes it pure. Maria Kowroski and Philip Neal are in white, nothing subtle about that, and they carry the romantic theme in a wonderful partnership. Not a misstep here.

"Dances at a Gathering" is choreographed to 18 pieces of Frederic Chopin music: etudes, mazurkas, nocturnes, waltzes and a scherzo. The pianist for this overflowing concert of Chopin was Susan Walters. This is a lot of Chopin to play with only a moment's pause between each piece; to play it so brilliantly is astounding.

Robbins's interest in relationships once again provides the theme for the ballet. Dancers are: Megan Fairchild (in yellow), Sara Mearns (in green), Jenifer Ringer (in pink), Rachel Rutherford (in mauve), Abi Stafford (in blue), Jared Angle (in purple), Adam Hendrickson (in brick), Benjamin Millepied (in brown), Amar Ramasar (in green), and Jonathan Stafford (in blue). The curtain rises with the entire cast onstage performing to a Mazurka (Opus 63, No. 32), and entire cast returns to the stage for the final dance, a Nocturne (Opus 15, No. 1). For the remainder – the other 16 pieces – they dance in various combinations or solo. Each dance is separate, rather than a continuation of it's predecessor, yet with each dance a layer of complexity, of psychic complexity and of daring seems to build. In one dance, two men circle, the whole stage between them, and in mirrored leaps and turns, slowly close to center stage, as if drawn by a whirlpool; they engage, partner, lift, toss each other, and then, reversing the same spiral path, with the same high energy, they separate, depart: centripetal and centrifugal forces in play, physical and psychic energies. While everyone is incandescent in this ballet, Rachel Rutherford and Jared Angle particularly sparked.

"I'm Old Fashioned" is a sentimental joy. It entices with black and white credits (in mid-Century font – think newsreels) rolling on a small screen: there are credits to NYCB, to the composers (Jerome Kern from the film, and then Morton Gould for his variations on Kern's theme), to everyone who might reasonably expect credit or thanks, and the credits close with a wildly-applauded dedication to Fred Astaire. It is hard to resist. The film clip of Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth from the movie "You Were Never Lovelier" is a charmer. It includes elegant ballroom, show dance, soft shoe, a touch of Vaudeville, and a camp closing with the two stars trying to pass through the same doorway at the same time: bump shoulders, gesture gallantly, bump again.

Three couples, Rebecca Krohn with Tyler Angle, Jenifer Ringer with Jared Angle, and Sara Mearns with Stephen Hanna, take their turns performing embellished outtakes from the clip. Robbins deconstructs the Astaire dance and makes a separate choreographic event of each segment. The women in gowns, and the men in tails, like the stars, are joined by 9 more couples for ballroom on balletic steroids. The piece closes with the bump, bump again joke.
Megan Fairchild and Adam Hendrickson in 'Dances at a Gathering.' June 2, 2007 at the New York City Ballet.

Megan Fairchild and Adam Hendrickson in "Dances at a Gathering." June 2, 2007 at the New York City Ballet.

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik


Jenifer Ringer and Jared Angle in 'Dances at a Gathering,' June 2, 2007 at the New York City Ballet.

Jenifer Ringer and Jared Angle in "Dances at a Gathering," June 2, 2007 at the New York City Ballet.

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik

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