The Young and Young at Heart: Jerome Robbins’ “Fancy Free” at the American Ballet Theater

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American Ballet Theater (ABT)
David H. Koch Theater
October 27, 2018

Fancy Free
Choreography by Jerome Robbins
Staged by Jean-Pierre Frohlich
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Scenery by Oliver Smith
Costumes by Kermit Love
Revival Lighting by Jennifer Tipton

The Young and Young at Heart

As part of ABT’s Women’s Movement, an ongoing initiative to support the creation, exploration and staging of new works by female choreographers, the first ballet of this matinee performance was Le Jeune, choreographed by Lauren Lovette. Ten dancers from the ABT apprentice group and the ABT Studio Company danced the ten-minute long work displaying some of their considerable abilities. The arabesques, turns and lifts were lovely if not inspiring, as were the young performers. However, the music, Equus by Eric Whitacre, is awful—bombastic with many switches of rhythm that go nowhere. Lovette is credited with “costume concept” which sounds like she thought of dressing the women in pink with belts and the boys in black—again, perfectly fine but hardly revolutionary. Still, the dancers were lively, energetic and full of promise.

This was followed by The Nutcracker Pas de deux from Act II, danced by Sarah Lane (with Missy Copeland originally designated in the program), and Aran Bell. Lane, who became a Principal Dancer in the fall of 2017, (and was the dancing double for Natalie Portman in the movie, Black Swan), belies her delicate looks with plenty of flare although her circling jumps into arabesque would be enhanced were her legs more stretched. Mr. Bell partnered efficiently but didn’t connect with the audience—at times he seemed stuck in glue. Richard Hudson designed the white, sparkly costumes—every little girl’s dream of what a princess wears.

It was a joy to come to Fancy Free, the work made by Jerome Robbins with music by Leonard Bernstein that ultimately morphed into super-hit On the Town. The three sailors, danced by Aaron Scott, Thomas Foster and Calvin Royal III, were absolute delights, making the most of every gesture down to tossing away gum wrappers. Royal has hips that swivel every possible way and total control of his every move whether he is spinning, dancing on the counter or sounding out beats on his body. Thomas Foster’s height combined with the almost-cartoonish look of wide-bottom sailor pants kept my eyes on his solo, enjoying his braggadocio. As for pugnacious Aaron Scott, he’s as good an actor as dancer, wringing every drop of humor out of his part. The women the sailors interact with, referred to as “passers-by” were danced by Luciana Paris, Isabella Boylston and Brittany Degrofft with plenty of big kicks and some romantic moments, one a lovely pas de deux. 

Fancy Free was Robbins’ first ballet and has become a classic. Sure, it’s an old chestnut but one that’s roasted perfectly and set in front of Oliver Smith’s angled bar with lighting by Jennifer Tipton after the original design by Nananne Porcher. The story conveys in simple movement the feel of New York in 1944 and shows us just how sailors swaggered, lusted after girls and fought over them. We feel the boys’ loneliness; when the first girl turns up we immediately understand how badly each wants to be chosen by her. A second girl arrives; she is also drawn into the dating game and then falls easily into a girl-to-girl relationship with the other woman. Two women, three men—one sailor is always out of the game as they dance, changing partners until the men each perform a solo variation and finally, the girls leave. Another turns up and the hunt for female companionship is back on. 

It’s a simple story that ends as it began with the three sailors alone in the big city. They have had some experiences and learned a few lessons. That’s it but it’s more than enough. 

About the author

Mari S. Gold

Mari S. Gold is a freelance writer who contributes to many magazines and websites. Her blog, But I Digress… , on cultural events, travel, food  and other topics is at www.marigoldonline.net. She lives in New York City.

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