Giannandrea Poesio

Unsung hero

<strong>New York City Ballet</strong><br /> London Coliseum

New York City Ballet
London Coliseum

Despite being one of the greatest dance-makers ever, Jerome Robbins remains, outside the United States, an unsung hero of 20th-century ballet. Even newly printed European dance-history manuals relegate him to a lesser place, preferring to give sole credit to Russian-born George Balanchine for the creation of a distinctively American ballet style. But if there is a choreographer who truly contributed to the development of anything identifiable as American ballet, it is Robbins. It is a pity that, bar one or two titles, a large portion of his oeuvre remains unknown to dance-goers from the Old World. A real pity, for ten years after his death his choreography remains stunningly fresh and unique.

Fortunately, there are several of Robbins’s works in New York City Ballet’s brief season at the London Coliseum. Indeed, the whole of the second programme is dedicated to his genius. And it is a good programme, too, for it provides viewers with a somewhat varied, not to say exhaustive view of the man’s choreographic breadth. Not unlike the memorable Paris Opéra’s Soirée Robbins I reviewed on these pages a few years back, New York City Ballet’s programme kicks off with The Four Seasons, set to Verdi’s super-catchy ballet music for the 1855 opera Les Vêpres Siciliennes. This humorous tribute to a gilded theatrical past highlights some of the fundamentals of Robbins’s approach to classical dance. Although the ballet is peppered with references to 19th-century conventions, such as the intentionally exaggerated use of mime and the hierarchically arranged order of dancers’ appearances, the dance is also permeated with a wealth of innovative modernist ideas that build upon the traditional tenets of the old idiom.

Jazz-like movements, reminiscent of those seen in Robbins’s memorable dances for West Side Story, thus come seamlessly and unpredictably from the most predictable and trite balletic formations.

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