New York City Ballet: All Robbins

Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall in "The Cage", photo by Paul Kolnik

Last spring, New York City Ballet celebrated the 10-year anniversary of Jerome Robbins’ death with the Jerome Robbins Celebration. This season, the company pays tribute to the choreographer with the “All Robbins” program, which will be performed for the last time on Saturday afternoon. The four ballets cover a range of musical choices and are performed in the order in which they premiered, spanning from 1945 to 1983.

Interplay is a playful piece, set to Morton Gould’s American Concertette, for four men and four women in brightly colored costumes. The dancers flirt with one another, horse around, and do cartwheels, but this is all interspersed with stylized movement that compliments the jazzy score. At one point, the dancers compete to see who can perform the most sophisticated moves. Sean Suozzi was at ease in Free Play, and Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild were excellent in a romantic, lighthearted duet. Interplay is clearly a product of the 1940s, but it still seems fresh in 2009.

Perhaps one of Robbins’ most bizarre ballets is The Cage (set to Stravinsky’s urgent Concerto in D for String Orchestra), which depicts a tribe of female creatures who kill after mating. Rebecca Krohn is an aggressive Queen in command of the pack of fierce, messy-haired women, who move in unison as they stretch open their mouths and creepily crawl across the stage. But the most intriguing creature is the Novice, played by Wendy Whelan. Contorting her muscular limbs into angular shapes while mercilessly attacking Sébastien Marcovici, Whelan looks at home in the quirky movement. I cannot imagine any other dancer more vividly interpreting this role.

If I had been told that Four Bagatelles were a Balanchine ballet, I would have believed it, for it is so simple and different from the Robbins ballets I’ve seen. The piece is set to four of Beethoven’s bagatelles – short piano pieces – beautifully played by Nancy McDill. Wearing a green tulle skirt and corset, Tiler Peck showed a new softness in her dancing that I hadn’t noticed in previous seasons. Her delicate, airy movement matched the music, particularly when she seamlessly glided across the stage in her solo. Gonzalo Garcia was buoyant, expansive, and proved to be an elegant partner with a superb sense of timing. The movement itself was not particularly innovative, but Peck and Garcia emphasized the nuances to make this ballet thoroughly enjoyable.

Gonzalo Garcia and Tiler Peck in Four Bagatelles, photo by Paul Kolnik

According to Deborah Jowitt’s program notes, Robbins did not think I’m Old Fashioned was worthy of Fred Astaire, whose duet with Rita Hayworth in the 1942 film You Were Never Lovelier was the inspiration for the ballet. In a way, he was right. The balletic version of the duet is boring, especially since Astaire and Hayworth’s more interesting duet is shown on a large screen behind the dancers. While there is a visible motif in the theme and variations, the ballet goes on for far too long to hold the audience’s interest. Another Robbins classic, such as West Side Story Suite, Glass Pieces, or even The Concert, would have been a more engaging close to the performance.

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This entry was posted in ballet, criticism, Dance, Dance writing, Jerome Robbins, music, New York City, New York City Ballet, Reviews, Robert Fairchild, Sterling Hyltin, wendy whelan and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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