May 11, 2016                                                                                                                                                                                                               David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center                                                                                                                                                             New York City

Cecly Placenti

Presenting a program perfectly balanced between lyrical and spectacular, New York City Ballet danced two of Jerome Robbins’ masterpieces with characteristic precision and joy.

As the house lights dim and the curtain rises on Gonzalo Garcia’s meditative walk onto the stage, the audience gets a glimpse of the soulful journey to come. Confident and authentic, Garcia’s movements begin a conversation that speaks of longing, reflection, melancholy and merriment. Sara Mearns and Adrian Danchig-Waring add to the dialogue with a richly lyrical, breathy duet, peppered with subtle gestural nuances. One of my favorite aspects of Robbins’ choreography is the sudden appearance of a quirky, quick gesture – the tap of a pointe shoe on the ground, the flex or flutter of a hand – that rises and then falls back into the overall movement phrasing like ripples on a lake. They pull and focus my eyes for a moment, often leaving me wondering ‘did I see that?’ as the piece continues to unfold.

New York City Ballet in Jerome Robbins' "Dances at a Gathering" Photo Paul Kolnik

New York City Ballet
in Jerome Robbins’ “Dances at a Gathering”
Photo Paul Kolnik

As various duets, solos, and larger groupings wash across the stage like a migration of clouds, the sense of going on a journey heightens, and I see the path of life being played out before me. There is playfulness, sensuality, lyricism, intimacy and emotion without storyline. Robbins’ choreography is so very textured and prismatic; there is so much going on in one piece of work – yet it is all interconnected, related, necessary. The ten dancers in this piece, like clouds or snowflakes, are each completely unique movers who complement each other perfectly. Megan Fairchild, as the woman in green, is a flawless, sprightly ray of sunshine. Playful and bright, she can instantly transition from being lushly lyrical to dazzling at warp speed, making her thrilling to watch. Tyler Angle manages to stand out in a company of world-class dancers with his razor sharp, lighting quick pirouettes, and Amar Ramasar is always the consummate prince – so stately and refined.

Dances at a Gathering ends with a variation on its opening theme – all ten dancers in a reflective walking meditation. They pause, slowly arcing their gaze across the space as if they are wistfully watching clouds float across the sky, or contemplating the migration of a flock of birds. A slow, reverent port de bras puts a final rest on this lovely piece, as movement and music melt into one another and fade into darkness.

Taking the stage by storm, much as it did when the original premiered in 1957 ushering in a new era in musical theater, West Side Story Suite explodes with pizzazz and punch. Robbins’ choreography – a fun mix of classical technique with very real, very pedestrian movements, brings me to tears every time I see it. It makes me want to get up and dance! The themes of love, innocence, the loss of innocence, and learning to accept and appreciate people and cultures different from our own, are timeless themes that resonate  as much in present day New York City, or anywhere else in the world today, as they did in Shakespearian England or 16th century Verona. Superbly danced, authentically acted, and masterfully embodied, West Side Story Suite features seven sections from the original musical including the “Dance at the Gym,” “Cool,” “America” and “Somewhere.”

What surprised and delighted me most was the singing! Five professional singers sang the bulk of the roles, but the NYCB dancers also functioned as ensemble singers, and the characters of Anita and Rosalia in “America” had solo parts as well. I had no idea these amazing dancers could also sing!

Georgina Pazcoguin, Amar Ramasar, and dancers of New York City Ballet in Jerome Robbins' "West Side Story Suite" Photo Paul Kolnik

Georgina Pazcoguin, Amar Ramasar,
and dancers of New York City Ballet
in Jerome Robbins’ “West Side Story Suite”
Photo Paul Kolnik

Georgina Pazcoguin is a fiery, passionate Anita. Reminiscent of the boldness and verve of Rita Moreno (from the movie cast) she gives a feisty and vibrant performance full of spice and attitude. She dances bigger, louder and with more punch than anyone on stage with her, and her dramatic layouts and high kicks are crowd pleasers. I cannot imagine the pressure these dancers must have felt to not only portray excerpts of an audience-favorite musical, but to have to sing at the same time! They rose to the occasion and had me wishing I were about to see the entire production.

It was a pleasure to spend the evening with two of Jerome Robbins’ masterpieces and to experience the soulful, expansive, yet highly entertaining way in which he interprets the human condition through dance.