All Robbins

Jerome Robbins set four ballets to the music of Chopin. Of the four, The Concert was his earliest, and in my opinion, his greatest. It's a comic ballet that parodies, among other things, audience behavior at classical recitals, corps de ballet formations, marriage, 1920's social conventions, fashion, and butterflies. Even if you know where all the jokes are the ballet doesn't lose its freshness. There's none of that portentousness that creeped into later Robbins. It's a delightful piece that also needs real charmers. This afternoon's performance at the New York City Ballet had that in Sterling Hyltin as the ditz, Joaquin de Luz as the husband, and Lydia Wellington as the angry wife.

Is there a dancer on the NYCB roster who is more charming than Sterling Hyltin? And does anyone on earth have better hair than her? Those wavy blond locks practically became a character unto itself, as Hyltin flitted through the ballet with a wonderfully smitten de Luz chasing her tail.

The afternoon started with Glass Pieces. Two words: Wendy Whelan! Whelan is coming back from severe injuries, and you could see in the pas de deux that her extreme flexibility is gone -- she's a bit ginger when she has to lift her leg. But she's still so special -- she has such a sense of line and geometry that makes her unparalleled in modern leotard ballets. There's something almost mathematical about the shapes she makes onstage. Adrian Danchig-Waring was a great partner for her. He's a big, muscular type and he steadied her. October 18, 2014 will really be a sad day for the New York City Ballet.

Phillip Glass's music is always so compulsively listenable. Those propulsive steady beats practically cry out for dance. Robbins' choreography thankfully never becomes overwrought. Instead, it maintains a sweet casualness for much of the ballet. Dancers are in practice clothes, and dancing is almost secondary to them walking across the stage, as if they were pedestrians strolling down a street in NYC. Love it.

Opus 19/The Dreamer (set to Prokofiev's beautiful violin concerto) featured a standout performance by Robert Fairchild. This piece was originally designed on Mikhail Baryshnikov and is really a male virtuoso ballet -- the women (including soloist Tiler Peck) flit in and out of the ballet. They are dreamlike and seem like a figment of the male's imagination. One of the things Baryshnikov was able to do was pirouette with astonishing penny-whistle cleanness. Robbins took advantage of that by making the male do many pirouettes in different positions -- sometimes crouched, sometimes splayed, but never losing that center of balance. Fairchild doesn't have quite the cleanness and crispness of Baryshinkov but he's still one of NYCB's most charismatic male stars, one of the few who can carry an entire ballet. Tiler Peck was her usual excellent self but the role doesn't give her that much to do -- she's really almost an afterthought to the male protagonist. The final embrace with the man and woman resting their faces in each other's hands was a lovely ending.

I've noticed something about NYCB programming this season. Has Peter Martins finally thrown in the towel on being a choreographer? One of the rituals of a NYCB ballet used to always be "New Martins Ballet." For dance connoisseurs this inevitably led to a groan, as "New Martins" ballets ranged from terrible to mediocre. This season, there's been thankfully none of that nonsense, and instead, so many programs of A+ classics from Balanchine and Robbins. Thank frickin' God. Please let this trend continue.


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