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Robbins/Bernstein's 'The Age of Anxiety'Almost Forgotten Rarefied Ballet

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#1 papeetepatrick


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Posted 16 January 2009 - 11:38 AM

[I posted this under 'Music You'd Like to See As a Dance', and linked it to this separate new post, which I think it needs, on the off-chance someone has seen it way back in the 50s. I was very impressed with what I read, and agree with Mel that neglect of a major Robbins/Bernstein work is most unfortunate:]

The original cast of 'The Age of Anxiety', Robbins's ballet to Bernstein's wonderful 2nd Symphony based on the Auden poem was Tanaquil LeClercq, Francisco Moncion, Todd Bolender, and Jerome Robbins. The synopsis in the earliest Balanchine 'Stories of the Great Ballets' has much that is fascinating and it was very well-received. All the more bewildering that it has been left to moulder. As in the poem, we have the 7 Ages and the 7 Stages. For example, "the sixth age shows us a reaction to this superhuman condition--disillusionment, a brief effort to rise above it, a danced argument as to which is better: to give in to the determinism of the city or to fight against it fearlessly. The four strangers spklit into two groups and take these differing points of view." In the 7 Stages there is 'The Masque': "The exhausted girl falls against one of the boys. There is silence for a moment. Then carefree music blazes out. The music simulates jazz, and the four characters cavort about the scene forgetting their problem in playful versions of jive. But soon their vigorous efforts to be cheerful begin to pall. One of them stops dancing and stomps in raging despair: it is the kind of protest of the half-intoxicated, the man who knew that drink would solve nothing at all. The girl curls up on the ground."

Bernstein said of his piece "If the charge of theatricality in a symphonic work is a valid one, I am willing to plead guilty. I had a deep suspicion that every work I write, for whatever medium is really theatre music in some way."

Robbins, in pointing out the differences his ballet has from the poem and symphony: "It is a ritual in which four people exercise their illusions in their search for security. It is an attempt to see what life is about."

John Martin said "If you are interested in seeing one of the most sensitive and deeply creative talents in the choreographic field at work, and tackling his most profound and provocative assignment with uncompromising vision, you will find the piece completely fascinating".

Margaret Lloyd said: "because it reflects the tensions of our time, Age of Anxiety is a great and gripping ballet.

Melissa Hayden, Nora Kaye, Hugh Laing, and Roy Tobias also appeared in these roles.

The sounds of all these comments do sound different from anything we hear nowadays, and remind one of the kinds of lively-art goers of the sixties, and particularly the kind of theater reviews we used to read in various New York publications in particular. While there is a 'period feel' about all these quotes I've put, the piece is obviously as pertinent and timely as ever, but I can very clearly see that the kind of ferment which would continue to support this kind of piece is probably long gone. It must have been extraordinary to be at the first performance, and I wish I could imagine the sets a bit better than I can. The original poem is set in a 3rd Avenue bar, and the ballet in 'a public place in any part of a large modern city".

I find this whole entry very touching and a bit melancholy. What surprised me was that it had been as successful in its critical reception, since few mention it anymore. While I'd like to see it revived, I do have a hard time imagining that it will be.

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