New York City Ballet: Robbins Review
Thursday 23rd February 2017
By. Imogen Pickles
New York City Ballet’s final week of their 2017 Winter season pays homage to Jerome Robbins in a triple bill that features three distinct works: Glass Pieces (1983), Moves (1984), and The Concert (1956). Broadway may be the primary home of Robbins’ choreography, but his impact on the ballet world is equally unparalleled, and in this program, a masterful selection of works demonstrates his choreographic prowess and relevance.
Driving momentum propels the opening work, Glass Pieces, in which swaths of dancers swarm across the stage in continuing, constant surges of bodies. The scene is a lot to take in, but necessary to keep up with, or to be pushed by, Philip Glass’s music - a pulsating and unforgivable force, which in this case is far from minimal. Themes of modernity and urban life appear in contrast to the abstract shapes and patterns that the dancers carve into the space. Drag runs, stomping heels, fists, and stag-leaps paint and color the space - almost decorating the sound, whilst moving patterns create a labyrinth of dynamism, and an architecture for Glass’s music. The piece is exquisitely executed by the corps de ballet, a united body that thrives at this metropolitan pace, though the relentless action calls for a balance between athleticism and artistry. Glass Pieces is all energy: music electrifies movement and unsurprisingly sparks joy in the audience, forming an invigorating must-see for all.
While the opening piece is all movement and beating sounds, Moves, in stark contrast, is performed in complete silence. Capturing the audience with an austere tension, the piece is stripped of all frills, set, costume, and musical accompaniment. The rhythmic composition is created only by the sounds produced by the dancers themselves. A slap, stomp, clap, swoosh, even a sigh enthrall the audience with an unexpected intensity as they actively engage and hold the participatory silence. At first the movement is minimal; dancers manipulate each other’s bodies in different shapes, starting small with just a hand or foot, and growing until full phrases and duets develop. There seems to be a discord between the individual body and the collective, between the desire to move freely or in melodic peace within the united sounds of united bodies. As the piece develops the corporeal metronome quickens: all the dancers come together center stage, and then in a final hurrah stomp to the wings as one collective mass, where a harmony is found in the singular sound.
In the final piece, The Concert, traditional music triumphantly returns: a piano is placed on stage for a live performance, depicting a Chopin recital in which the music is transformative and the audience's’ dreams and fantasies come to life. A masterful musician, full of power and pomp, struts across the stage to the command the piano. In this piece, the music dictates. At first the characters in the audience attempt to get as close to the music as physically possible, hugging the piano and competing for a more melodramatic response to the music. The Concert seemingly ridicules the arty spectator, poking fun at an excessive and emotional audience. As the recital continues, quirky characters and scenarios appear with various comic disturbances and ridiculous antics. One character seeks to avoid a stern companion, another sports a bizarre fluffy blue hat, and even butterfly creatures are conjured. There are also winks to ballet: stiff passive females are placed and passed around the stage by their active male counterparts. The music and the performed moving body are intertwined; action is propelled by sound. The music commands the stage so much so that a melancholy tune transforms the weather to rain - pathetic fallacy at its most literal. The mocking portrayals of audience and traditional performative tropes question the role of audiences and our responses to work. A melodramatic comic farce, The Concert is delightful genius.
Jerome Robbins’ Glass Pieces, Moves, and The Concert make for excellent programming, complete with choreographer and composer dynamics, intricate dance and sound relations, sonic architectures, as well as a conscious nod to the fourth wall. The young and spritely corps de ballet works beautifully in these three pieces, in which postmodern dance concepts are woven into a more traditional ballet vocabulary. The company’s ease, energy, and sense of enjoyment were overtly infectious, and the audience couldn’t resist- three highly recommended works.
Imogen Pickles graduated from King’s College London with a B.A Hons in English Language and Literature. After graduation, Imogen worked for Phoenix Dance Theatre, for two years as the company Programmes Coordinator. In September 2015, she moved to New York City, and since then worked on number of projects with Gallim, Rioult Dance, Bryn Cohn+Artists and the Curet Performance Project. Imogen began working at New York City Center in September 2016, and at the start of 2017 she also joined the Pentacle.