When Jerome Robbins created Dances at a Gathering for New York City Ballet in 1969, he was returning to ballet after 13 highly successful years as a Broadway choreographer.
For the score, he turned to the music which had been his first love – the mazurkas, waltzes and études of Frédéric Chopin. He saw – beyond the dreamy, romantic and sentimental music of the Polish composer – “a kind of peasant roughness …. a bittersweet stab of memory” (according to his biographer Amanda Vaill), working the folk elements of Chopin’s music into his choreography, together with the range of emotions which a group of friends might experience in their relationships with each other.
The choreography includes Robbins’ signature touches of the Slavic folk culture of his heritage which so captivated him – the occasional foot stamp or toe-heel tap, the hand behind the head. Part of the ballet’s charm is the way in which the ten dancers appear to be together only for each other. At times it’s fun, at other times sweetly romantic or contemplative, but – as a work of pure classical ballet, it’s spellbinding – exquisite from beginning to end.
Dances at a Gathering has no storyline. As the name implies, it’s a series of dances which “should look like a group of friends together, just dancing” explains Jean-Pierre Frohlich, stager for the Robbins Rights Trust …… It was really just how Jerry related to the music and what the music meant to him. He used to say, ‘Let the music make you dance’ ” – and that’s just what it does.
The costuming is as timeless, elegant and uncomplicated as the work itself, the dancers clad in muted pastel shades, by which each of the couples is identified.
The Royal Ballet’s presentation of Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering’ is available to view online until 25th October, for just £3.00. Visit The Royal Ballet website for further details.