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Broadway for an Evening – a homage to Jerome Robbins

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I went to one of the last evenings of RDB’s ”Broadway for an Evening”, presenting four ballets by Jerome Robbins: two productions from last year, West Side Story Suite and The Cage, and two new ones, The Concert and Other Dances. The last one has never before been on the programme of the RDB.

The title”Broadway for an Evening” is a bit of a salesman’s trick. Apart from West Side Story Suite none of the ballets has any connection whatsoever to Broadway, except that the programme as a whole is a very entertaining one. But if it is a trick to lure the audience into the theatre, it has certainly failed. The big operahouse was only half full. Pressed on the economy RDB makes a great deal of reuse in their programmes, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If done cleverly, wellknown ballets can appear in a new light when presented in a new context. This programme looked like a clever one, presenting four very different Robbins ballets, and thus demonstrating the width of his talent as a choreographer. I enjoyed the evening and I found it very interesting to see some of the older ballets by Robbins. At the same time I do understand why it didn’t make a hit with a broader audience. All four ballets have their good and interesting moments but none of them are really masterpieces, and some of them haven’t entirely survived the time travel into the new millenium. When you are dealing with a Danish audience you can’t count on any pre-existing interest in Jerome Robbins as I suppose you can in New York. You have to win them over, and that you cannot do with a programme which tends to be ”interesting” rather than catching.

The Concert is a charming and elegant ballet about..., yes what is it actually about? In a light-hearted way it deals with many things – with our relations to music, to our fellow human beings and maybe to our own inner dreams. But it also deals with ballet itself and its many stereotypes. Most hilarious is the middle section where a group of dancers makes a mess of patterns and symmetries, because one of them keeps falling out. The first 20 minutes of the ballet are pure gold, but then it runs out of steam, the dancers flitting around the stage with butterfly wings for what feels like ages. It is a pity because until then it is extremely witty. Susanne Grinder was both elegant and touching as the rapturous and flirtatious ballerina, and Mads Blangstrup was a big surprise as the dull husband who tries to live out his wild dreams of love and murder behind the back of his possessive, bourgeouis wife. I hadn’t thought I should see him in that kind of slap-stick comedy, and doing it really well! But everybody did well, especially Alba Nadal caught the eye as the bespectacled girl, who is always out of step with the rest of the group and cause chaos.

The Cage, Robbins’ creapy ballet about man-devouring female spiders, was a shock to the audience in the early 50’es. Today it hardly shocks anybody, and time has been especially cruel to the corps of female spiders, who look a bit ridiculous in their choreographed savagery. They provoked many subdued laughs and comments from the audience, who was clearly puzzled about what they saw. But as soon as the Novice, the newborn ”spiderwoman”, starts to dance, one is spellbound. Her solo is a choreographic stroke of genius, it is simply thrilling to see how she discovers her body, limb by limb, and later, her own self and maybe even love in the pas de deux with the second intruder. J’aime Crandall as the Novice was my second big surprise that night. I have never doubted her technical strength, but I have never been able to warm up to her. This time she took the stage with such power that you couldn’t take your eyes from her. No wonder she has just been promoted to principal. To me, though, she looks like a very modern dancer, and a bit to the cool side, and it is going to be interesting to follow her and see, if she can stretch her stage personality to cover the more traditional repertoire as well.

From the gloomy universe of the Spiders to the sunny world of Other Dances is a long leap! The dances are, according to the programme note, a ”left over” from ”Dances at a Gathering”, which Robbins made 7 years earlier in 1970. Having missed Dances at a Gathering two years ago, I was happy at least to see this one. I felt like watching an American Ashton, with a similar flow to movements and a wealth of details. Thomas Lund and Alessandra Lo Sardo made a wonderfully synchrone couple. Especially Lund has the right lighthearted approach and technical ease to make this little pdd glow and sparkle in many colours. Lund ’s technical superiority enables him to play with the steps and to surprise over and over again, it looks so fresh all the time, like he just invented the steps here and now. (Gudrun Bojesen has the same artlessness in her way of dancing, and I think that is one of the reasons why they made such a good couple on stage. It is a pity that they are so seldom paired anymore. ) Lo Sardo is a very secure dancer with a strong technique, but she doesn’t have the same rapport with the audience as he does, and her style of dancing is a bit too cute and girlish to my taste. (The pdd ended with a bit of drama, as the ribbons of one of her point shoes came undone shortly before the end, but luckily nothing happened and she came safe through the last jumps and pirouettes.)

The grand finale, West Side Story Suite, was the only real disappointment that night, and the disappointment has to do with the ballet itself as well as with its execution. The difficulties by turning the musical West Side Story into a ballet are apparently (and understandably) so big, that one cannot help thinking, why do it at all? It works all right, or at least tolerably, until the tragedy sets in. I can live with a sung solo, performed by a singer at the proscenium, while Tony dances his solo on the stage, and it is okay too that the dancers are backed up by 4 professional singers in the pit during the ensembles. Ballet dancers are not singers, we know that, and therefore it is okay with some help. The compensation for all that should be, that ballet dancers dance this better than show dancers who are expected to be able to both sing and dance. And in a sense they are better, but it doesn’t look the right way. Especially the male dancers can’t help looking like ballet dancers, no matter how many jeans they wear. It is just too nice and too clean to look at, no rough edges, no earthiness. Marcin Kupinski (as Tony )with his airborn style was particularily misplaced. One of the jets, though, was really convincing. A tiny dancer with the right rough style and attitude. But as the printed programme doesn’t tell who is doing the minor parts anymore, I have no idea who he was. (I hope the RDB will change this new praxis as it very frustrating for the audience and disrespectful to the dancers.) Amy Watson as Anita was another great exception from all the "niceness". She was fabulous – never thought she had so much temperament and such a fury to her movements. Wow!

But I cannot live with the ending – and how we get there! I had heard that Robbins changed the ending, but I had never imagined a happy ending of these dimensions. And without any kind of transition. We jump directly from the battle scene, where Riff and Bernardo get killed, to a light-filled stage with the dancers dancing happily together to the sound of ”Somewhere” (beautifully sung by Signe Asmussen by the way). Robbins might have been facing too many difficulties when having to tell, without words, the story between those two scenes. But that again raises the question, why then doing it at all? He should have left out the story completely, like he probably did in the former version a couple of years earlier, but still, it wouldn’t make much sense.

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I'm sorry if this program isn't generating the audience that the company hoped for, since it is indeed a big mix of work by Robbins. The Concert and The Cage are both from the same period in his career, but I think that The Concert has aged more gracefully. Comedy doesn't always hold its own through time, but I do think this one does.

And I agree about the ending of West Side Story Suite -- I've chattered on about it in several places, so I won't repeat except to say that it looked more like deMille than Robbins to me.

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