I’ll be the first to admit that I love Chopin’s piano pieces. They are breezy, thoughtful, and at times dramatic and intense. With such beautiful music, it is easy to let the mind wander (as mine did several times throughout the performance), to lose yourself in listening to the music, which is exactly what Jerome Robbins said in the program notes for his ballet The Concert. In fact, this was true for all of the pieces on Friday’s all-Robbins program.
Sara Mearns in Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering, photo by Paul Kolnik
When I saw Dances at a Gathering last summer, it was at Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s outdoor theater on a hot, humid night. The gathering on stage felt tangible, as if the ten dancers in this hour-long piece were dancing right on the lawn where some of the audience members sat. On Friday evening, sitting in the New York State Theater, the gathering was more distant, which I think had to do with the fact that it was performed indoors. The dancers, surely moved by Chopin’s music, drifted off to another place so that they were detached from the audience. Damian Woetzel was lost in thought as the ballet began, walking with his head in the sky and certainly daydreaming. Later, he was airborne in his solo, dancing effortlessly with clarity in his footwork and ease in his upper body. This role is undoubtedly one of his finest and most beloved. The rest of the cast was also strong in the series of solos, duets, and trios. Jared Angle’s elegant, confident partnering was particularly commendable. And Sara Mearns, as the girl in green, was superb. She accurately portrayed the aloofness and mysteriousness of her character as she wandered separately from the others.
Other Dances was so similar in mood and composition to Dances at a Gathering that it could have been part of that ballet. But there was only one couple – Julie Kent from American Ballet Theatre making a guest appearance, and Gonzalo Garcia – and a pianist on stage. The dark blue backdrop and blue-gray costumes lent a lazy, mellow feeling to the piece. The dancers graciously bowed as they exited and entered the stage for solos in between their pas de deux, but they were casual and a bit playful in their duet. Ms. Kent’s every gesture was delicate and serene, while Gonzalo Garcia had lovely lines and gracefully showed off his arms and long neck. Perhaps this ballet would stand out more if it were placed before or after pieces that offer more of a contrast. In its current position, it simply looks like a continuation of Dances at a Gathering, which is such a long ballet (sixty-three minutes, to be exact) that any piece following it should be dissimilar.
Gwyneth Muller and Andrew Veyette in Jerome Robbins’ The Concert, photo by John Ross
Fortunately, the evening ended with an altogether different piece. The Concert (or, The Perils of Everybody) is a comedy that illustrates an afternoon piano recital with a very recognizable cast of characters – all audience members of the concert. There were two gossipy women who made noise with their candy wrappers, a nerdy, bespectacled man, a young woman in love with music (she literally embraced the piano), and a henpecked husband, played by the hilarious Andrew Veyette. One of the funniest scenes from the ballet involved a corps of female dancers who couldn’t quite get it together to perform in perfect unison, no matter how hard they tried. One dancer was always turning the wrong way or waltzing in the opposite direction from the others. It was truly a choreographer’s worst nightmare. Chopin’s music was most memorable in the touching and realistic rain scene. Each character felt the first drops of rain, reluctantly opened his or her umbrella overhead, and then slowly continued walking about. It was a beautiful, poignant addition to the otherwise comical ballet.