Choreographer Spotlight: Jerome Robbins

(In which I highlight a choreographer and provide a discussion of one of his major works)

The world of ballet is multifaceted. The dancers are the ones to perform the work, the ones to represent the production onstage, but many other people are closely involved. From the costumers to the lighting crew to the public relations staff of the company, everyone’s input is necessary to produce a successful show. Recently, I had the idea to write about an important person obviously involved in the process of creating a ballet: the choreographer.

When ballet companies perform classical ballets today, they will credit the original choreographer, yet still produce a unique and up-to-date ballet. The program will read something along the lines of “choreography by [the artistic director or whoever produced the updated version of the ballet] based on the work of Marius Petipa (for example).” This way, the original choreographer from the 1800’s will still be honored for their work, keeping the classical ballets alive.

While strictly classical ballet is valuable, the art form of ballet would not be able to survive in an ever-changing, increasingly modern world if new works were not created. In order to remain relevant and valuable in the current world, many choreographers create works that are more accurately described as “contemporary ballet,” keeping ballet fresh and exciting.

One choreographer, the one I am choosing to pay tribute to, that has had a great impact on the world of ballet (and specifically, the company of New York City Ballet) is Jerome Robbins.

Known for choreographing the iconic film “West Side Story,” Robbins produced the majority of his work while at the New York City Ballet. He was drawn to George Balanchine and begged to be involved with the company in any way possible. Thankfully, Balanchine chose to hire Robbins as a dancer and choreographer. Robbins would become well-known for his incredible storytelling ability, which was showcased in one of his first ballets “Fancy Free,” which portrays the lives of three sailors.

Although Robbins admired Balanchine, the two men were not the same person. Balanchine was extremely prolific, producing ballet after ballet. Robbins took much longer with his work. For example, one of his most well-known ballets, “Dances at a Gathering,” took him over a year to complete. Robbins also valued a slightly more human quality to his dancers, telling them to mark during rehearsals while Balanchine would demand 110 percent. Both men were undoubtedly brilliant, but their excellence was expressed in their own unique ways.

As demonstrated through the wide variety of his ballets, Robbins was extremely versatile. His choreography may be dramatic in one ballet, such as “The Cage,” but extremely humorous in the next. One of his most humorous works is a thirty minute ballet called “The Concert.”

In the past, I had seen an excerpt from The Concert, a scene called The Perils of Everybody,” which I loved and told several dance friends about. Since I had so enjoyed this small scene, I searched for the full ballet on YouTube to no avail. But recently, after I had already given up on ever finding the complete work, I discovered it by chance on a channel I had already been subscribed to. Needless to say, I could hardly believe my luck. I was thrilled to have found the full ballet and watched the whole thing on the spot. It exceeded my expectations, and I’ve watched it several times since.

Here is my marvelous find:

The Concert

The comedy in this ballet is evident throughout. From the pianist’s entrance before the dancing begins to the unexpected ending (involving butterflies, portrayed by the dancers, of all things), Robbins keeps the audience easily engaged and laughing. I recognize that people may not have the time to watch the entire ballet at one time, so in my discussion, I will provide time cues of noteworthy parts. For example, I consider the most humorous part of the ballet to be the scene I had seen before. The Perils of Everybody begins at 10:54, and it is truly delightful.

Robbins’ work often has strong characters, and the relationships between the clearly defined roles drive the story. For example, in the Concert, the character of the husband appears many times (a few notable times are 5:00, along with his wife, at 17:48, and at 25:45 as a butterfly. The community also plays a large role in the ballet, as seen in the beginning as all react to each new dancer on the stage and in the scene at 22:26.

Personally, I found Robbins’ choreography to be very musical. The dancers in this particular performance did a wonderful job in terms of musicality as well. The pianist is actually a character in the ballet, perhaps showing Robbins’ value of the music he was using. Through his career, Robbins became associated with the music of Chopin because of how often and how well he used it, and The Concert is certainly no exception.

Because the music is so important, I found it a little aggravating that the audio was slightly off from the video. It was most obvious in moments such as 5:26-28 where a dancer used one of the many props to make a noise in reaction to something (in this case, the wife using a newspaper to slap the husband because she was upset with him).

But I can’t complain too much about this tiny detail. The ballet is so wonderfully choreographed and danced. I really am thrilled to have found it, and I recommend watching the entire work in whatever spare moments can be possibly found.

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4 responses to “Choreographer Spotlight: Jerome Robbins

  1. Pingback: Jerome Robbins | Possible Worlds·

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