The dance world lost a great American choreographer 10 years ago this summer: Jerome Robbins, whose long career encompassed both Broadway...
The dance world lost a great American choreographer 10 years ago this summer: Jerome Robbins, whose long career encompassed both Broadway and ballet, was born in 1918 in his beloved New York City (whose streets he would immortalize in his best-known work: the urban jazz of “West Side Story”) and died in 1998. Pacific Northwest Ballet — whose artistic director Peter Boal worked closely with Robbins at New York City Ballet in the ’80s and ’90s — celebrates his legacy by closing its season with “All Robbins,” an evening dedicated to the choreographer’s work.
Robbins’ range is elegantly depicted in the evening’s trio of dances. “In the Night,” the 1970 work chosen by Boal to begin his PNB tenure in 2005, is lyrical and haunting; set to Chopin nocturnes, it’s a quiet interweaving of three pas de deux. Like many of Robbins’ ballet works, it’s an emotional piece that requires dramatic performances from the dancers — as befits a choreographer who got his start in theater. The showbiz roots of “Fancy Free,” Robbins’ irresistibly breezy 1944 sailors-on-shore-leave ballet (seen at PNB last season) are even more apparent: The ballet, which plays like a character comedy with dazzling jumps thrown in, became the basis for the musical “On the Town.”
Making its PNB premiere is “The Concert: The Perils of Everybody,” Robbins’ 1956 comic ballet depicting an audience of very specific types — a henpecked husband, a happy girl in a hat, a pair of ladies-who-lunch — listening to a pianist perform Chopin. A favorite of Robbins’ NYCB mentor George Balanchine (who at least once performed in it), it was made around the same time Robbins was beginning “West Side Story” for the stage. Robbins’ biographer Amanda Vaill notes that the choreographer always worked well when veering between one genre and another, “from Broadway to ballet, from tragedy to comedy — it seemed to energize him.”
Robbins’ death left behind a vast body of work that Northwest audiences are finally beginning to explore. Local premieres of two more Robbins works are on PNB’s schedule next season: “West Side Story Suite” and the neoclassical masterpiece “Dances at a Gathering.” Boal has also expressed hope to soon present a personal favorite, “Opus 19: The Dreamer,” which he chose for his final performance before retiring from the NYCB stage. There’s more beyond these — I look forward to someday seeing Robbins’ beautifully sensual “Afternoon of a Faun” at PNB — but “All Robbins” should provide a fine primer on a classic American artist.
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Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725