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Leigh Witchel

Balanchine Rep, Robbins Rep

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This topic is extracted from Alla's post on the Books Forum (Review of Robbins Biography). She is quoting Jennifer Homans' review in The New Republic.

That said, and this is another of Homans' observations, the NYCB dancers seem to relax in Robbins ballets in a way they can't anymore in Balanchine works, which demand a sort of sponaneity and freedom that's hard to come by in that company today. The Robbins ballets are better danced, Homans argues, because "Robbins sewed the instructions into the lining" (referring to his rigorous planning of every step, etc.) She seems to be suggesting that Robbins ballets are not "living organisms" in the way that Balanchine ballets are, and so they don't require so much in the way of vigorous, independent risk-taking (which, she suggests, doesn't much exist anymore at City Ballet).

What do people think? I've always felt there were "Robbins dancers" and "Balanchine dancers" in the company, I've even heard people describe themselves that way. Anyone care to discuss the distinctions? Also, how do you think the Robbins legacy is holding up, in comparison to others?

[ 07-04-2001: Message edited by: Leigh Witchel ]

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Hmm, that *is* an interesting distinction. I know there are dancers I enjoy watching more in Robbins ballets than in Balanchine ballets (Jenifer Ringer is one, although she's quite a wonder in pieces like "Brahms-Schoenberg" and "La Source"). I always think that Robbins ballets need a very easy, natural deportment as well as a more "romantic" temperament -- maybe a stronger sense of wistfulness, or character, or something.

Out of curiousity, Leigh, can you tell us who in the company has identified as a Robbins dancer?

As to the Robbins legacy, all the performances of "Dances at a Gathering" and "The Four Seasons" I've seen over the past several years have been pretty darn nice, if that's any indication....

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You've already named one! I've heard many people call Ringer a "Robbins dancer" (I like her just fine in Balanchine, myself.)

Stephanie Saland had a real reputation in the Robbins repertory as well. It's harder to say among men. You need a knack for combining classical technique with a demeanor from musical comedy (not today, but the open and ingenuous kind that was around when Robbins did Broadway) to do a good chunk of the male repertory in Robbins.

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IMO I always thought the more "Robbins" dancer was a bit better at emoting and bringing character to a role that may not have a defined one.

Balanchine to me is the dancer's relationship to the music, Robbins I always found was the dancers relationship to the audience and their fellow dancers on stage.

I also think that Robbins knew the dancers he picked weren't the strongest technicians but had a flair of their own.

Off the top of my head dancers that fall more into the Robbins rep; Rachel Rutherford and Riolama Lorenzo come to mind and of course Jenifer Ringer, who stated she thought she was more a Robbins dancer, it didn't hurt that he adored her.

I never saw her dance but wasn't a lot of his choreography done with Tanaquil LeClercq in mind? Was she a "Robbins Dancer"?

As for Robbins legacy holding up, when I saw Christopher Wheeldon's latest piece, my first thought was that it wasn't nearly as good as "The Concert". I suppose in certain pieces Robbins is the standard.

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Wheeldon's latest had the misfortune of appearing just before "The Concert" on the day I saw it, and it really suffered by comparison. The Robbins wit is just unparalleled. I think Arlene Croce wrote somewhere that Robbins and LeClercq were the funniest people ever in ballet, bar none.

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I think of the current NYCB dancers, Yvonne Bourree seems much more relaxed in Robbins ballets than the Balanchine rep. I think she is much better in character parts, where she is told what to think, what to feel. Or it could just be that she submerges her fear of performance into the character. In any case, during rehearsal of Robbins ballets, he often asked the dancers to think about their characters -- who they were, their parents and friends, create a story, etc... They didn't just have to represent the music (although more than that goes into dancing Balanchine).

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I think one of the reasons the Robbins rep looks so good is that there are three ballet masters (Castelli, Frolich and Redpath) who devote considerable time to it. And there are only a few Robbins ballets in each season compared to 30-40 Balanchine works.

Robert La Fosse was the quintessential Robbins dancer. He had the right combination of technique and the Broadway devil may care attitude.

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