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Flash Review, 1-30: Lilacs from Robbins
The Importance of Being "Old-Fashioned"
By Nicole Pope
Copyright 2002 Nicole Pope
NEW YORK -- Balanchine, known for
his exquisite expressions of music, once said, "When you have a garden of pretty
flowers, you don't demand of them, 'What do you mean? What is your significance?'
You enjoy them.... So why not just enjoy ballet in the same way?"* True, there
are moments of simple appreciation for surrounding beauty, but on many occasions
I have taken in the sweet scent of the Vermont lilacs, for example, and was not
only inspired by a sense of awe, but also by a pondering over nature, its existence,
how it came to be, and what I was doing in the middle of it. Similarly, I can
watch ballet and experience the pure expression of music, but there are times,
many times, that I have found myself asking "Why?" When this question arises in
ballet, it is usually the result of holes in the choreography, but Saturday's
matinee performance of "I'm Old Fashioned" by the New York City Ballet at the
State Theater was an engaging example of ballet's ability to combine beauty and
context, and to dispel that question, "Why does this exist?"
With the clearest and simplest of
intentions, Jerome Robbins created an homage in 1983 to the dancing of Fred Astaire
and Rita Hayworth in the 1942 movie "You Were Never Lovelier." In the beginning
of the piece the original clip is projected alone and large, Fred Astaire in coat
and tights and Hayworth in a flowing, black ball gown. The musical compositions
of Morton Gould's variations on Jerome Kern's original score then accompanied
a corps of eighteen dancers and three couples: On Saturday, Maria Kowroski and
Sebastien Marcovici, Jenifer Ringer and Philip Neal, and Rachel Rutherford and
Alexander Ritter, wiith Kowroski, Marcovici, and Ritter making role debuts.
With movement reflective of the duet
between Astaire and Hayworth, but still of the ballet vocabulary, Robbins's choreography
plays with many interpretations of the music, having dancers feet interpret the
beat or off-beat, moving that beat and rhythm into the spine as the impetus spread
to the limbs, and, in a solo of thigh slapping playfulness to a percussion instrument,
by having a male dancer take on the light-footed qualities of Fred Astaire himself.
The most striking duet of all Saturday, between Kowroski and Marcovici, was so
because of their exquisite performance. Ringer's dancing is lush and stretches
beyond her incredibly long limbs. In a duet between between her and Phlip Neal,
the two make silly references to the moment when Astaire and Hayworth accidentally
bump into each other as they attempt to go inside through a set of French doors.
With gestures of "After you," and "No, after you," the dancers perform to a playful
rendition of Kern's score.
Because this ballet was clearly in
reverence to the 1942 duet, I was not put off by the final image in which the
entire corps, dressed very similarly to Astaire and Hayworth, accompanies the
projected duet in an encore of their dancing. Though the company outnumbered the
movie legends on the screen, they did have a huge degree of competition for my
attention, but rightly so. In their occasional pauses to give added mindfulness
to the couple, it is pronounced that Robbins's choreography was never intended
to outshine his inspiration.
* Quoted in Susan Leigh Foster's
"Reading Dancing: Bodies and Subjects in Contemporary American Dance," Berkeley
and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1986.
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