The setup is simple: a dark oxford blue backdrop, a bare stage, an unaccompanied cellist, a dancer outfitted in burgundy. As the first notes of Bach’s “Prelude” from Cello Suite 1 in G Major sound out, the dancer travels, marking movement until he’s pulled up and into the composition, a melding of music and body that feels as natural and internal as breathing. So begins Jerome Robbins’s “A Suite of Dances,” one of the 20 revivals currently being staged by the New York City Ballet in its program “Robbins 100,” a celebration of the centennial of the choreographer’s birth.
Robbins originally choreographed “A Suite of Dances” in 1994 as a solo for Mikhail Baryshnikov, who returned this season to coach NYCB principal dancer Joaquin De Luz in the revival. For his part, De Luz is a charming inheritor of the role and performs the piece with endearing sincerity, conveyed in some measure by his projected effortlessness — a thrilling component of this is seeing the way he works his weight into the floor during casual movements like low dégagés while retaining the quick lightness needed to move into brighter combinations. The resulting effect gives the impression of a dancer moving through foundational technique into something transcendent via the music.
The grounded ease of “A Suite of Dances” serves as a contrast to the more outright exuberant Robbins selections that make up the “Tribute to Robbins” program, which runs over the next week and includes “The Four Seasons” and “Circus Polka,” in addition to new works by NYCB resident choreographer Justin Peck and choreographer Warren Carlyle. The opening selection, “The Four Seasons,” demonstrates Robbins’s trademark musicality, humor and speed (Tiler Peck is particularly notable in this regard as a pitch-perfect embodiment of autumn revelry), while “Circus Polka,” which follows and is danced by the students of the School of American Ballet, puts Robbins’s playful showmanship on display. Unifying each ballet is the feeling of conversational space created on the stage between the performers themselves — a cohesiveness that seems to permeate most, if not all, of Robbins’s work.
FLASH FOOTAGE // At the Spring Gala premiere of Justin Peck's Easy on Thursday evening, Harrison Coll and Sean Suozzi showed off a generous humor and terrific speed in choreography inspired by the classic collaborations of Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein.See Easy on the Tribute to Robbins program in its encore performances today at 8 PM, and MAY 6, 10, 12 mat, 13. Get your tickets here: nycballet.com/robbins100.
Posted by New York City Ballet on Saturday, May 5, 2018
Sean Suozzi and Harrison Coll in Justin Peck’s “Easy”
This sense of space translates over to Justin Peck’s energetic (and extremely challenging) “Easy,” set to music by Leonard Bernstein, a nod to the composer’s concurrent centennial. Beyond the overt Robbins-isms (there are the requisite snaps, jazz-infused lines, sneakers), Peck arranges the dancers so that their focus drives inward, sometimes literally, like when, for example, they run around one another, echoing the athletic staging of “Glass Pieces.” In other instances, Peck replicates community through the lyrebird-like mimicking that contributes to the logic of the piece and the sustained closeness required to perform the intricate partnering of Unity Phelan, Preston Chamblee, Harrison Coll, Indiana Woodward, Sean Suozzi and Claire Kretzschmar.
Likewise, Carlyle’s medley of Robbins’s Broadway choreography, “Something to Dance About,” showcases the shared language of Robbins’s universe not only in the pieces it samples — “On the Town,” “Billion Dollar Baby,” “The King and I,” “Peter Pan,” “West Side Story,” “Gypsy,” “Funny Girl” and “Fiddler on the Roof” — but also in Carlyle’s choice to represent multiple Broadway productions at once, mixing costuming, casting and choreography. In the closing moments of the production, a picture of Robbins appears on the backdrop, and the dancers, representing their various shows, turn to face him. Their backs to the audience, they bow to the honoree, all together in the home Robbins help build.
FLASH FOOTAGE // Kick the weekend off right as Tiler Peck, Daniel Ulbricht, and the ensemble show off a killer Charleston in this excerpt from Warren Carlyle’s Something to Dance About, which premiered at last night's Spring Gala.See the Tribute to Robbins program — with Robbins' Circus Polka, A Suite of Dances, The Four Seasons, and Justin Peck's premiere Easy — when it returns to stage MAY 5 eve, 6, 10, 12 mat, 13. Get your tickets here: nycballet.com/robbins100
Posted by New York City Ballet on Friday, May 4, 2018
Tiler Peck and Daniel Ulbricht in Warren Carlyle’s “Something to Dance About”
Top Image: Tiler Peck and Taylor Stanley in Warren Carlyle’s "Something to Dance About" Courtesy of Paul Kolnik