New York Theater Ballet
Florence Gould Hall
April 27, 2018
A Centennial Bow to Jerome Robbins
New York Theater Ballet aims to reexamine classics with a fresh, contemporary look. In this case, most of the evening was a celebration of Jerome Robbins’ Centennial showcasing Septet, Rondo and Concertino. Both Septet and Concertino are performed to music by Stravinsky; the former to Reduction for Two Pianos and the latter to Concerto for String Quartet and Three Pieces for Clarinet Solo. All three ballets are plotless and were danced in simple, unadorned costumes on a bare stage. Florence Gould Hall is small so the audience is close to the dancers and exposed to the bare bones of performing including rosin squeaks and sometimes heavy landings although Steven Melendez managed to make his light, a fine achievement for a good-sized, athletic man.
Septet, originally one of four ballets from Chamber Works, showed off flexed feet and some interesting leaps by the men, Melendez, Erez Milatin and Joshua Andino-Nieto. Often the dancers face away from one another, turning out from the center so they are partly disconnected. This is not a great work nor is Rondo, set to Mozart’s Rondo in A Minor performed by Amanda Treiber and Elena Zahlman. The women dance similar or matching steps often a count apart but they moved with a bit too much effort so that the piece never fully caught fire. Concertino was the most exhilarating work on the program especially the performance of tiny, flashing Mayu Oruri. At some points she seemed like a little steel drill, displaying beautiful balance, control and musicality, gracefully partnered by Andino-Nieto and Melendez, the whole sparked by the lovely clarinet of Eric Umble.
A Musical Interlude presented Henry Cowell’s Exultation, played by Michael Scales using his forearms and fingers. The piece has a folk song quality which was perhaps intended to set us up for The Seasons, choreographed by Richard Alston to John Cage’s music of the same name. This work has been described as a serene and limpid meditation on the cycle of a year in nature with images of Quiescence (winter), Creation (spring), Preservation (summer) and, intriguingly, Destruction (fall), all of which come from Indian philosophical thought. The dancer’s loosely fitting tops were in appropriate, muted tones, with the most interesting—pale brown and green—dressing fall. Alston dedicated the work to his friend, writer and critic, David Vaughan reminding us that winter’s austerity gives way to the lighter, brighter hope of spring. Although the work is a little remote, by making a small effort the undiluted movement sinks in.
Ballets with no story line are enjoyable for sheer physical communication. New York Theater Ballet is a fine, small troupe that rightfully deserves praise for preserving and presenting small gems from earlier eras, staging them with live music. While these pieces were not works I most enjoy, it’s always a pleasure to see this creative company onstage.
With its ever-expanding repertory, New York Theatre Ballet’s programming brings fresh insight to classic revivals paired with the modern sensibilities of both established and up-and-coming choreographers. Going strong after 38 years, New York Theatre Ballet’s diversity in repertory explores the past while boldly taking risks on the future.