“Tribute to Robbins”: compelling and modern storytelling choreography, never gets old…

The David H. Koch building/ “Fancy Free”, “In the Night”, “The Four Seasons”/ Tuesday January 23rd, 2024.

Welcome back friends!

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Welcome this week, once again, to the Performing Arts, and to the to dazzling world of ballet.

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Welcome to 3 wonderful, vastly different, and highly entertaining ballets, from various decades, danced beautifully by the NYCB.

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These ballets, have all been choreographed by one of my favorite artists ever, 20th century, iconic, and highly influential, American choreographer extraordinaire, Jerome Robbins (1918-1998).

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1) Let’s start first, with Robbins’ “Fancy Free” ballet from 1944.

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Believe it or not, it is Robbins’ first ever, ballet wonder, which he choreographed as a young dancer, at 26 years old, bringing undeniably, an American “flavor” to the world of ballet.

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This timeless “piece” absolutely won over audiences and critics, when it was first performed, and still did last Tuesday.

Wow and yay!

Also, “Fancy Free”, as a ballet, in addition to a fun, modern, lively choreography with great storytelling moves, is set to wonderfully expressive, entertaining, and brilliant music, by another illustrious American artist, up and coming composer at the time, Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), who himself went on to a flourishing musical career (become later on Music Director of the NY Philharmonic, and wrote iconic music for various masterpieces including the score for Kazan’s illustrious 1954 movie “On The Waterfront”, as well as the score for the 1961 movie “West Side Story” which Robbins co-directed with Robert Wise).

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And Robbins choreographic talent is truly apparent in this spirited, American exalting steps, and pre-“Broadway/musical like” “Fancy Free” ballet, which is a rare delight to admire, and was an inspiration for Robbins’ hit, 1944 full blown musical, “On The Town”, which develops the storyline of this “Fancy Free” ballet.

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And what fun and cheery costumes by Kermit Love.

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And Principal dancers Daniel Ulbricht, Joseph Gordon, and Jovani Furlan, were all incredibly entertaining as the 3 sailors “on the town”, each trying each to seduce young girls, “passer-bys”, the superb Mary Thomas MacKinnon, Alexa Maxwell, as well as Malorie Lungren, near a bar, during “Fleet week”. All were spectacular and performed with incredible joy, athletics, ease, grace, charm and technique, together, leaving the audience, totally awe-struck and blown away.

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2) With “In The Night”, which premiered a few decades later in 1970, Robbins builds in a beautiful late night set, an evening of gorgeous “dramatic” dance at night, either under the stars, on under a Viennese-looking (to me) chandelier, for 3 couples, dancing one after the other.

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And to conjure up, and strengthen even more, the idea of the night, Robbins’ “In the Night” ballet is set to 4 wonderfully gorgeous and illustrious “Nocturnes” pieces, by Franco-Polish composer, and virtuoso pianist of the Romantic period, who wrote primarily for solo piano, the one and only, Frédéric Chopin (1810- 1849).

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Nocturne Op 27, No.1, is first, stately, and then melts into more romance, Nocturnes Op 55, No.1 and No.2, are more melancholic and vivid, and the final piece Nocturne Op. 9, No.2 is by far, the more lullaby like of all these “Nocturnes”, which were all played exquisitely, on the piano, by Elaine Chelton.

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The only aspect I disliked about the ballet, was the costumes, by Anthony Dwell: I found the length of the dresses way too long, which hid the women’s legs, even as they were performing beautiful arabesques, and whose color palette was not connected enough, and looked to me, a tad austere and gloomy (for Principal dancers Sara Mearns and Unity Phelan especially).

That’s ok.

Of course, fortunately, the dancing was beautiful and graceful throughout, and Principal dancers, Unity Phelan and Andrew Veyette, who danced last, to me, really stood out as a couple, and were especially moving and expressive.

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3) As a “teaser” to Robbins’ final “Four Seasons” ballet, set to a few stunning delightful dance pieces by illustrious classical composer, Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), NYCB Music Director, Andrew Litton, gave us first, from the “elevated” orchestra pit, a few minutes of historical and musical “exploration”, to enjoy even more Verdi’s (yes Verdi, not Vivaldi’s) “Four Seasons”, initially a ballet to be included to Verdi’s 1855 “Les Vêpres Siciliennes”, a 5 acts “grand opera” production.

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Andrew Litton explained that “ballets”, were “de rigueur” (mandatory), in the 19th century popular French grand opera (which were 4 or 5 acts long, characterized by large-scale casts and orchestras, and lavish and spectacular, in terms of design and stage effects, normally with plots based on or around dramatic historic events).

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Examples of such 19th century, French operas, with ballets included within, are: Auber’s 1833 “Gustave III”, Meyerbeer’s 1836 “Les Huguenots”, Halévy’s 1841 “La Reine de Chypre”, Gounod’s 1859 “Faust” (which had a ballet added in 1869, to be able to be performed at the Opéra in Paris), or Verdi’s 1867 “Don Carlos”.

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“Ballets” were included in French grands operas, generally within the second act of the 4 or 5 act productions, and usually, with some link to the story of the opera.

Why the second act?

Because in France, at the time, it was perfectly normal to show up to the opera, exceptionally late, after dinner, and therefore, the ballet, which nobody wanted to miss, was usually placed at the end of the second act.

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And when Wagner, in his 1861 “Tannhäuser” opera, inserted his “Venusburg ballet” (in Venus’ glorious grotto), at the beginning of Act 1, there were huge protests from the audience in Paris, because the ballet started way too early, in the opera.

Oh boy. The French and their dinners.

And ballets were also often seen, as only a “divertissement”, a way of giving the audience a chance to just enjoy the spectacle, rather than worry about the plot, providing time to reflect on the story.

Oh boy.

So fun, is it not, to get a little historical context about ballets within 19th century French “grand opera”?

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Back to our Robbins’s “Four Seasons” ballet, whose score derives initially, from an 1855 Verdi grand opera, entitled “Les Vêpres Siciliennes”, and was also “lengthened”, with a few other highly popular ballet music, (written for operas) from Verdi: his (1843) “I Lombardi” and his (1853) “Il Trovatore” operas. Both were added to the initial “Four Seasons” ballet, to enhance even further, the “expanse” of the drama.

Wow and oh boy.

And ladies and gentlemen, because of this, Robbins’ “Four Seasons” ballet, is actually not only spectacular, but just incredibly beautiful!

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Let’s get more details about the “Four Season” ballet plot: Janus, the God of the New Year, inaugurates a series of entertaining and “season-related” dances. And the 4 “seasons” ballerinas and partners, then, dance away, to illustrate their “season”.

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And what fun choreographic and musical details are added, to convey with even more clarity, each “season”.

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And what beautiful costumes by Santo Loquasto.

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First, in Robbins’ “Four Seasons”, “Winter” ballerinas are of course, fittingly, the first to appear.

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And early on, in the ballet, in their white clad short dresses, these “Winter” ballerinas warmed up their legs with their hands on stage to translate even further, the reality of “cold” of the winter season.

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“Spring” of course followed, with its warmer breezes, illustrated visually, with dancers, this time, wearing flowing green costumes, and musically, with warm “clarinet” melodies.

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“Summer” then surged, with its blistering heat, illustrated visually this time, through delightful yellow and orange flowing “dresses”, and musically, through repetitive simple notes for the violin section.

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And the last season, “Fall”, was the most spectacular of all (seasons), and symbolized as well, and in addition, the automnal season, with the presence of a wonderfully vivacious and charming “faun”, who surprises the “Summer” ballerinas at the end of their “season”, and introduces eventually, “Fall” new ballerinas and partners, clad this time, in spectacular maple/crimson red dresses/costumes.

Wow and yay!

And the score for “Fall”, by Verdi, was as equally gorgeous, as the 3 previous “seasons”.

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And what wonderful composer for dance, is Verdi: all of dance/ballet music created for various operas, which since, are sometimes, no longer included in these lengthy operas, is as perfect as Tchaikovsky’s dance music (in my opinion, and I know many choreographers, past and present, would agree with me).

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And how lucky are we, to be able to still view these opera “ballets” at the NYCB, as often, as mentioned, they have been “dropped” from some operas.

What a treat!

And Principal dancers, Tyler Peck and Roman Mejia, during the “Fall” dance, won over the audience with their charismatic partnership, and beautiful technique.

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So, to sum up my feelings, about “Tribute to Robbins”, performed beautifully by the NYCB, last Tuesday, in great company: what extraordinary, beautiful, quintessential, Robbins, modern choreographies, set to an array of superb, American, Franco-Polish, and Italian music from illustrious and mostly classical composers, whose gorgeous, emotion driven, and timeless scores from the 19th or 20th centuries, just work incredibly well with the world of dance.

Wow and yay!

Just grand.

Not to be missed!

Until next time friends!

Soft…

Fluttering…

Sunny…

Joyful…

Happy…

Loving…

Eternal butterflies 😊