New York City Ballet pays tribute to Jerome Robbins

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Daniel Ulbricht, Robert Fairchild, and Andrew Veyette in Jerome Robbins’ ‘Fancy Free’
Credit: Paul Kolnik

Choreographer Jerome Robbins is next to take the spotlight in New York City Ballet’s American Music Festival. Featuring 25 ballets and the music of 17 American composers, this star-spangled celebration marks the 25th anniversary of the 1998 American Music Festival, during which NYCB presented more than 20 new works, all set to the music of American composers. The three Robbins favourites on this programme are Interplay, Fancy Free  and I’m Old Fashioned.

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Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild in Jerome Robbins’ ‘Interplay’
Credit: Paul Kolnik

Interplay – according to Robbins’s biographer, Amanda Vaill – is about dancers dancing, “its eight young people …. leaping and cartwheeling about the stage …. daring one another to toss off fusillades of fouettés and air turns …. characteristic of the street kids Jerry had grown up with”.  Although the ballet appeared to be simply a romp, the Times’ John Martin presciently saw it as “the foundation of an American mid-forties classical style”.  The score is by Morton Gould, whose centennial is celebrated this year.  It’s humorous, jazzy and totally at one with the swingtime rhythms of the 1940s, yet at its centre, and in complete contrast to the rest of the score, it gives way to a bluesy style pas de deux.  An extract of Interplay can be seen in this video clip

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Daniel Ulbricht, Robert Fairchild, and Andrew Veyette in Jerome Robbins’ ‘Fancy Free’
Credit: Paul Kolnik

Fancy Free, choreographed in 1944, was Robbins’ first ballet – with a score by the then-promising young composer, Leonard Bernstein. It tells of the escapades of three footloose young sailors on shore leave in Manhattan during World War II, looking for excitement, women, drink and fun. It received rave reviews – and two dozen curtain calls – at its premiere, and was the inspiration for a later, full-length musical, On The Town, which was just as successful, and from which Robbins and Bernstein went on to collaborate on another Broadway hit, West Side Story.  Watch a video clip of Fancy Free.

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Rebecca Krohn and Adrian Danchig-Waring in ‘I’m Old Fashioned’
Credit: Paul Kolnik

Morton Gould again provided the score for the third work on the programme, I’m Old Fashioned,  based on a theme by Jerome Kern, which was originally sung by Johnny Mercer.  The ballet was Robbins’ tribute to Fred Astaire – whom he admired enormously – and it was inspired by a dance sequence in the film You Were Never Lovelier, performed by Astaire and Rita Hayworth.  As a backdrop to his glamorous and elegant waltzes, Robbins had this scene from the film playing on a screen behind the dancers, his choreography taking its cue from the changing style of the onscreen variations.

On the three days following this All Robbins programme are performances featuring two more of his works, together with one by George Balanchine.  Entitled Balanchine and Robbins: Masters at Work, the programme comprises Western Symphony, N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz and Glass Pieces.

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George Balanchine
Credit: Tanaquil LeClercq

In Balanchine’s lively Western Symphony, a group of cowboys and dance-hall girls are out on the town, just having fun.  Set to a score of traditional American songs – orchestrated by Hershy Kay – this classically-based ballet bears all the hallmarks of Balanchine’s unique style, but with elements of American folk dancing skillfully woven into the choreography.   See some excerpts in this clip.

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The Company in Robbins’ ‘N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz’
Credit: Paul Kolnik

Robbins’ N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz is another example of the themes of urban life which so fascinated him.  Set in the late 1950s, to a score by Robert Prince, it focuses on the Beat Generation, reflecting the style of cool jazz and rhythmic dances associated with the teenagers of the post-war era.  After its first performance it became an overnight sensation, eliciting the comment from Lincoln Kirstein that “No one but you has understood Jazz in its flexibility, and no one has had the gift to make it so interesting”.  (Amanda Vaill – Somewhere, the life of Jerome Robbins)  Here’s a short excerpt.

Glass-Pieces

The Company in Jerome Robbins’ ‘Glass Pieces’
Credit: Paul Kolnik

Glass Pieces also has an urban theme, capturing the pulsating beat of city life, and set to a score by contemporary composer, Philip Glass.  This was an inspired choice by Robbins, with Glass’s “repetitive structures” providing the perfect setting for the momentum of Robbins’ rhythmic concepts, shifting patterns and athletically-charged choreography.  See an extract in this video clip.

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Jerome Robbins
Credit: Didier Olivre

The All Robbins programme takes place on May 3rd, 4th and 9th, and Balanchine and Robbins: Masters at Work on May 10th, 11th and 12th – at the David H Koch Theater, 20 Lincoln Center Plaza  New York, NY 10023.  For further information  and tickets visit the New York City Ballet website.

 

Jerome Robbins

PBS American Masters Series – Something to Dance About

George Balanchine

Lincoln Kirstein

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