New York City Ballet: Robbins, Coliseum, London
Monday 17 March 2008
New York City Ballet's London season continues, and continues to look rough. This time it's a celebration of Jerome Robbins, who moved between Broadway (West Side Story) and ballet. The evening is rescued by The Concert, the choreographer's irresistible comedy.
The Four Seasons is a virtuoso showpiece, with affectionate nods to the opera ballets of the 19th century. Using the ballet music from Verdi's Les Vêpres Siciliennes, Robbins shows winter girls shivering – though what did they expect, wearing tutus in the snow? The corps mime wonder at a faun – there's a lot of sugar here, but with stylish dancing it should be fun.
There wasn't much fun in this weakly danced performance. Faced with intricate footwork, NYCB women look like panicked beauty queens, smiling through their make-up. And stronger dancers merely get through steps, when they should be dazzling us with them. Daniel Ulbricht has no trouble with the faun's jumps and turns, but he doesn't make them dashing.
Moves, created in 1959, is danced in silence, which in ballet usually means austerity and a lot of audience coughing. Yet Robbins's Broadway pizzazz is still there. He organises the dance into numbers, with neat tricks and sure-fire endings. I want to welcome his sense of structure, but the ballet doesn't gel. It's as if Robbins can't decide how austere he wants to be: it's a sober outfit with some last-minute rhinestones.
The dancers are less tense, but still don't look at home. The casual gestures (folded arms, shrugs) just aren't casual, while the footwork wobbles. They're happier with sleek poses, winding themselves into duets.
Thank heavens for The Concert. Pianist Nancy McDill sweeps on stage, dusting down her instrument and acknowledging the audience with cool assurance. As she plays Chopin, the dancers come in, carrying chairs, as her audience. They change seats, check tickets and dream dreams as the music is playing.
A ditzy blonde tries on hats; a henpecked misogynist dreams of murdering his pearl-wearing wife. A group of ballet girls struggle through a waltz, not quite sure how the steps should go. This time, Robbins's ballet and Broadway sides are perfectly blended. The jokes are brilliantly varied, ranging from snatched-away chairs to the poetic melancholy of a dance with umbrellas. There's a little mugging in the dancing, but at last New York City Ballet's dancers begin to look happy and spontaneous.
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