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New York City Ballet

All Robbins Program: "Fancy Free," "Moves" & "The Concert (Or, the Perils of Everybody)"

New York State Theater, New York, NY

February 20, 2002
By Nancy Dow


At the conclusion of this program, which consisted of three pieces choreographed by Jerome Robbins, someone near me commented, "That wasn't ballet; that was Broadway." I beg to differ.

This was an evening of historical ballet works. In fact one could argue that some, if not all three, should be elevated to the status of classics by now. They were presented with the flair that underlies Robbins' fine sense of the theatrical. Unlike ballets which glorify the human form or human ideal, Robbins speaks to the humanity, often flawed, in all of us.

Fancy Free opened the evening. With music composed by Leonard Bernstein this ballet was first presented in 1944 and it must have been quite innovative for its time. Set in a New York bar, it shows us three sailors on shore leave. Three guys, two gals and several rounds of drinks -- you get the picture.

Choreography, drama and humor blend seamlessly here. While the sailors are meant to look happy-go-lucky, the dancing they have to do is challenging in many ways. For example, there is one solo which involves leap-frogging over bar stools and performing double tours between two stools set fairly close together. The rough-edged sailors were danced by Benjamin Millepied, Daniel Ulbricht and Seth Orza. If I've got them straight, I particularly liked Orza here. He appears to be one of the shortest men in the company, and he's not endowed with a forgiving body (short legs, not much extension). He got a bit overenthusiastic and blew the ending of his solo. But he had such verve and stayed in character right through curtain calls, chomping vigorously on a stick of gum. I thought Pascale van Kipnis was noteworthy as one of the passers-by. I've seen red pocketbook girls I found more edgy than Amanda Edge. Melissa Walter did an enticing job with her little walk-on at the end. The third sailor's variation, Danzon, is the one that BalletMan told us he learned. Choreographically I think it's a gem, using bar stools and counter as a stage and as percussion instruments.

Moves, subtitled "A Ballet in Silence" is a fascinating ensemble piece for a dozen dancers. Although first performed by NYCB in 1984, it had its world premiere in 1959 with Jerome Robbins' Ballets: USA. We've already read here about the dancers using claps, stomps and body slaps as cues in this "scoreless" ballet. Beyond that, the steps themselves created a score -- the men's thighs beating audibly in jumps, the sound and rhythm of a stage full of dancers performing glissade grand jeté in perfect unison, for example.

The piece is so beautifully crafted. It starts with dancers moving together from upstage to downstage in one straight line, and ends with them retreating in similar fashion, being swallowed up in the darkness. In between, relationships and vulnerability are explored in an abstract way. Dancers are clad only in leotards or T shirts and tights. They move apart and together, pairings change, at times they support one another, at other times they are isolated. Women dance together. Men dance together. They all dance at the same time, sometimes doing the same moves and sometimes not. It's as if all the elements of choreography you learn about in composition class in college are displayed here, expertly and movingly combined to turn a movement study into a work of art. This was a particularly good performance, but I don't think I've ever seen a bad performance of Moves.

The Concert (Or, the Perils of Everybody) is billed as a "Charade in One Act." It premiered in 1956. This is balletic comedy at its outrageous best -- no subtlety here. The premise is that we are at an all-Chopin concert, and as the music plays, the attendees allow their highly imaginative minds to wander. The resulting images are danced for us.

This is one of my favorite pieces and describing it can't do it justice. You just have to see it to believe it. Robbins doesn't miss a trick or a beat. There's a love triangle, there's a fabulous SNAFU waltz in which the girls can't get their act together. For Raindrop Prelude there is a cast of umbrellas. And the Butterfly Etude gets so out of control that, in the end, the pianist (who has had his own issues with his grand piano, and has been on the stage the whole time) grabs a huge net and tries to snare these unruly creatures.

This cast was nobly led by Alexandra Ansanelli, Kipling Houston and Melissa Walter. The entire ensemble did beautifully. (There was, however, one huge faux pas in which a prop/costume part was not deployed at the correct moment. This entirely destroyed the impact of the hat section. Robbins would not have been pleased, I'm sure.) In previous viewings I had challenges with casts trying to dance "funny" instead of just dancing their parts and letting the comedy reveal itself. This time around they got it right.

I hope that all three of these ballets will be kept in rep and brought back frequently. Robbins deserves this and so does today's audience. This program was a delightful slice of ballet history.

 

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Edited by Marie.


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