New York City Ballet’s All-Robbins Program

Wendy Whelan and Gonzalo Garcia in "Opus 19/The Dreamer", photo by Paul Kolnik

After last week’s all-Balanchine program, New York City Ballet presented three of Jerome Robbins’s ballets on Friday evening.  Opus 19/The Dreamer is one of his most breathtaking works – always a pleasure to watch and always something newly discovered.  While 2 & 3 Part Inventions and I’m Old Fashioned have some charming moments, there are definitely stronger works in the company’s repertoire that could have been included in the all-Robbins program.  Yet, what was most apparent throughout the performance was Robbins’s use of quirky gestures: sometimes they added delicate humor, while elsewhere they looked silly or – at least in 2010 – very dated.

This was the case in I’m Old Fashioned, a 1983 ballet that paid tribute to Fred Astaire.  His duet with Rita Hayworth in the 1942 film You Were Never Lovelier was the inspiration for the work, which begins by showing the filmed dance on a large screen.  Following a theme-and-variation format, three couples and a corps of eighteen swayed romantically to Morton Gould’s commissioned score, with occasional moments of old-fashioned, exaggerated humor in the duets and solos.  Tyler Angle and Jenifer Ringer were divine in their intentionally clumsy duet, while Rebecca Krohn and Adrian Danchig-Waring were wonderfully elegant.  Yet, Astaire and Hayworth’s duet was choreographically more interesting than Robbins’s interpretation, and the concluding section – in which the full cast danced in front of the filmed excerpt – was irritatingly sentimental.

New York City Ballet in I’m Old Fashioned, photo by Paul Kolnik

Fortunately, 2 & 3 Part Inventions offered a spare, simple exercise for eight dancers, all of whom made debuts in this performance.  Like Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco, this ballet is unfussy and straightforward.  Set to Bach’s “Inventions and Sinfonias” for piano (played by Nancy McDill), the piece premiered in 1994 at the School of American Ballet’s annual workshop.  On Friday night, the young cast’s clear formations and disciplined movement reflected the uncomplicated music, which ranges from meditative to cheerful.  While remaining mostly academic and formal, there were also playful moments, such as when two women clasped hands and pretended to climb up and down a wall.  Ashley Laracey filled her solo with lovely lyricism and expression, and Kathryn Morgan, Chase Finlay, and Daniel Applebaum made strong impressions throughout the work.

Wendy Whelan, photo by Josef Astor, Dance Magazine 2003

In Jorge Luis Borges’s short story The Circular Ruins, the narrator reveals the dreams of a man on a quest and at one point says, “In the dream of the man that dreamed, the dreamed one awoke.”  This quotation came to mind during Opus 19/The Dreamer, an otherworldly, hauntingly beautiful 1979 work set to Prokofiev’s mysterious “Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major”.  Gonzalo Garcia added a breezy quality to the opening section in which he remained distant from the community of twelve women and men that tiptoed behind him.  As he dreamt up an ethereal being, Wendy Whelan mysteriously emerged from the swirl of blue-gray costumes, only to suddenly awake from her own sleep and dance with wild abandon as the dream’s momentum built. Garcia and Whelan were alternately mesmerized by one another and swept into each other’s worlds, seemingly longing for something just out of reach.   After the whirlwind of gorgeous movement that suggested a restless dream, the ballet ended with remarkable tranquility as Whelan and Garcia rested their heads in the other’s palms.  Borges’s story concludes, “He understood that he also was an illusion, that someone else was dreaming him.”  This was true in Robbins’s timeless work, as well, for both seemed to be the dreamers.

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