Though I had seen all three works on New York City Ballet’s Jerome Robbins program – Glass Pieces, Opus 19/The Dreamer, and The Concert (Or, The Perils of Everybody) – several times in the past, I was eager to see them side by side. Each is from a different decade – the 1950s to the 1980s – and depicts strikingly different moods. All three ballets remain timeless, and with a debut from principal dancer Sterling Hyltin last Saturday afternoon, the performance did not disappoint.
Glass Pieces (1983), with repetitive, propulsive music by Philip Glass, captures the energy of a metropolis. A large ensemble walks briskly in myriad directions against a backdrop that looks like graph paper. Three couples – in green, yellow, and red, like traffic lights – emerge from the hustle in commanding jumps that often end with their arms lifting overhead. In the second section, a line of women in silhouette bobs gracefully to the sound of slow, hypnotic strings. Rebecca Krohn and Amar Ramasar soar across the stage as a powerful presence. Krohn’s waif-like grace contrasts with Ramasar’s strength, and together they were a mesmerizing duo as they shifted through geometric shapes and extensions.
Krohn’s role is one that Wendy Whelan (who is retiring this fall, sadly) has performed marvelously for years. Whelan is also striking in Opus 19/The Dreamer (1979), in which Sterling Hyltin made her debut at this performance. Alongside Gonzalo Garcia in the title role, she looked relaxed and mature. Set to Prokofiev’s frenetic Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, the dreamer floats through an ephemeral landscape of dreams and nightmares, interacting with an ethereal creature who always seems just beyond his grasp. Hyltin is at once mysterious and commanding, emerging out of a sea of dancers (who perhaps portray other fleeting thoughts of the dreamer) with the wildness of a dream that cannot be controlled.
The Concert (1956) takes a more comical approach to the subject of dreaming. Specifically, it focuses on the quirky personalities that attend a live concert (featuring music by Chopin) and the ways in which they get swept up in the music. Maria Kowroski takes a seat right next to the live pianist (the hilarious Elaine Chelton) and proceeds to hug the piano in appreciation. Two women are hushed after whispering and noisily opening a candy wrapper, while another is desperate to get her annoyed husband to pay attention. An ensemble performs a hilariously bad waltz. And later, everyone seems to momentarily bond as they lift their umbrellas and walk briskly through the rain.
This image is reminiscent of the opening one in Glass Pieces, and yet the two have such distinct moods and energy. All three works highlight Robbins’ knack for portraying human experiences in varied, powerful, and accessible ways. Whether it’s a bustling street, an elusive dream, or a lively concert, it’s easy to imagine yourself right there.