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New York City Ballet: Dances at a Gathering, West Side Story Suite
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New York City Ballet: Dances at a Gathering, West Side Story Suite

- Onstage with the Dancers
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New York City Ballet
(New York City Ballet Website)

Dances at a Gathering
West Side Story Suite

Founders: George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein
Founding Choreographers: George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins
Ballet Master in Chief: Peter Martins
Ballet Mistress: Rosemary Dunleavy
Children’s Ballet Master: Dena Abergel
Orchestra, Music Director: Andrew Litton
Resident Choreographer: Justin Peck
Managing Dir. Communications & Special Projects: Robert Daniels
Associate Dir. Communications: Katharina Plumb
Communications Associate: Kina Poon
The David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 11, 2016

(Read More NYC Ballet Reviews).

Dances at a Gathering (1969): Music by Frédéric Chopin, Choreography by Jerome Robbins, Costumes by Joe Eula, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, Pianist: Susan Walters, Performed by Megan Fairchild, Lauren Lovette, Sara Mearns, Tiler Peck, Brittany Pollack, Tyler Angle, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Gonzalo Garcia, Joseph Gordon, and Zachary Catazaro.

Tonight’s two dance performance, in the Robbins repertoire, began with his Dances at a Gathering, choreographed to 18 of Chopin’s mazurkas, waltzes, and études. Robbins arranged solos, pas de deux, and ensemble dances, and Susan Walters kept the tempo bright for the full hour of this elegant piece. According to the Program Notes, Robbins used “gestures, moods, steps” that were inspired by the “fabric of the music”. This expansive ballet should be seen early in the evening and should be followed by West Side Story Suite, with its inherent electricity and drama. The magnetic quality of Dances at a Gathering is its romantic nature and bucolic ambiance. One imagines dancers in a meadowland, frolicking, flirting, teasing, and tousling. Every youthful emotion is developed in expressiveness and expansiveness, and the colorful costumes add a kaleidoscopic effect, especially in swirling ensemble imagery.

I remain amazed at the uncluttered simplicity, yet textured nuance of Robbins’ choreography, which elegantly unfolds, while Susan Walters keeps a keen eye onstage.
Ten dancers each wear a uniquely colored, casual costume, by Joe Eula. Tyler Angle, in purple, carries Tiler Peck, in pink, offstage, upside down. Joseph Gordon, in brick, and Lauren Lovette, in apricot, exude youthful, aerobic energy. Sara Mearns, in mauve, pushes against the air, an iconic Robbins gesture, one that illustrates intense emotionality. Dancers might be turned sideways, carried, tossed, or spun. They skip, swing, and slide. Relationships between the male and female cast are brief, but might be filled with yearning or playfulness. The blue sky backdrop, thanks to Jennifer Tipton, enhances and embraces this ingénue tableau.

West Side Story Suite (1995): Music by Leonard Bernstein, Choreography by Jerome Robbins, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, Scenery by Oliver Smith, Costumes by Irene Sharaff, Original Book by Arthur Laurents, Co-Choreographer: Peter Gennaro, Conductor: Andrew Litton, Guest Singers: Orville Mendoza, Courtney Bassett, Julie Price, Joanne Shea, Whitney Webster, Performed by Chase Finlay as Tony, Robert Fairchild as Riff, Amar Ramasar as Bernardo, Georgina Pazcoguin as Anita, Mimi Staker as Maria, Gretchen Smith as Rosalia, and the Company as The Jets, Their Girls, and The Sharks, Their Girls. Jerome Robbins updated Romeo and Juliet to a New York time and venue, and brought in Bernstein, Laurents, and Sondheim as collaborators. (NYCB Notes).

The company was resplendent tonight in Robbins’ West Side Story Suite (half of the all-Robbins program), and we were treated to the new Music Director, Andrew Litton, in the pit. Chase Finlay was cast in the role as Tony, a Jet, who falls in love with Maria, from the Latin half of the cast. This Robbins take on Romeo and Juliet, synthesized from his Broadway choreography for West Side Story, incorporates the Bernstein score with high-spirited results. Robbins’ oeuvre has been reviewed during many a City Ballet season, and yet I never tire of seeing it anew. The role of Maria, here, is minor, but Mimi Staker once again made the most of her spotlight, glowing in partnered incandescence with Tony. Robert Fairchild was Riff tonight, illuminating the stage, after his recent Broadway run in Wheeldon’s An American in Paris. The singing role, for him, was old hat, and his “Cool” had persuasive mastery.

The role of Anita, Bernardo’s girlfriend, is also a singing role, and tonight Georgina Pazcoguin reprised the role with abandon. Gretchen Smith, seasoned as Rosalia, sang and danced with Ms. Pazcoguin in the Anita-Rosalia-Latina number, “America”, making it sexy. As Tony, Mr. Finlay’s pursuit of Maria was filled with youthful angst. The knife fights are always astounding, with Amar Ramasar re-appearing as Bernardo, Leader of the Sharks. His macho stance and nuanced head gesture summoned the gang instantaneously, and his fights with Riff and the Jets were lifelike and intense. And, this season, the guest singers were tonally pure. Soulfully, the Company sang “Somewhere” with serene musicality and tone, just before the curtain.

Mr. Litton kept City Ballet Orchestra, five guest singers, and the cast all in exceptional synchronicity. He conducted the Bernstein score with tremendous melody and ebullience. Irene Sharaff’s costumes are iconic and eye-catching, with Anita’s nylons showing a black rear seam straight up, in retro perfection. The colorful ruffled dresses in the “America” song have a special liveliness and attitude. The “Dance at the Gym” brings in the pastel oranges and blues for the Jets, compared to the black, red, pink, purple costumes for the Sharks. Kudos to Jerome Robbins.

Tiler Peck, Sara Mearns, Brittany Pollack in Robbins' "Dances at a Gathering"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Robert Fairchild and Cast in Robbins' "West Side Story Suite"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at