Daniel Ulbricht was wonderful in Jerome Robbins' "A Suite of Dances" at Jacob's Pillow.
New York City Ballet dancers are big movers who are used to devouring space on big stages.
Thus, when members of the company appear at Jacob’s Pillow in the intimate Ted Shawn Theatre, they have to restrain themselves or off the stage they will fly. That’s why this group of dancers from all ranks, led by Principal Daniel Ulbricht, was wise to bring smaller pieces – solos, duets and trios – to their welcomed return to the Berkshire dance camp.
Appearing under the name of Stars of the American Ballet, the ensemble of 14, including Principals Anthony Huxley, Teresa Reichlen and Andrew Veyette, are currently paying tribute to choreographer Jerome Robbins. It’s apropos as it’s the centennial of Robbins’ birth and celebrations honoring the dance genius are happening throughout the U.S. and Europe. This is the Pillow’s contribution to the hoopla.
In the first half of the program, Ulbricht and company selected three of Robbins’ lesser known works – “Andantino” to music by Tchaikovsky, “Concertino” to music by Stravinsky and “A Suite of Dances” to music by Bach. As the program progressed, Robbins’ talent for showing dancers as people – not just taut bodies honed to perform amazing feats – slowly emerges.
It’s not so clear in the Tchaikovsky work with Veyette and Indiana Woodward. This romantic duet came out rather cold and pedestrian, bringing to mind Robbins’ concern for proving to the classical world – George Balanchine and his devotees in particular --- that he wasn’t just a Broadway gypsy. He was serious ballet contender.
Robbins’ strivings are evident too in “Concertino,” the Stravinsky work in which Reichlen is ushered by Daniel Applebaum and Andrew Scordato. Here, Robbins goes for the abstract – dancers twisting and turning to the music in surprising syncopated ways. Reichlen, on Thursday night, was fantastic. Her attack was a revelation, choreographically and artistically. But still Robbins, the man who could disclose the person behind the every step, remained hidden.
The Robbins I love finally comes out in “A Suite of Dances,” performed by the incomparable Ulbricht. Dancing along with cellist Ann Kim who is playing Bach’s “Six Suites for Solo Cello,” the solo is a playful tour de force. Here, Ulbricht does not only unleash is strong technical talents as a jumper and turner extraordinaire, but as a soulful and generous performer. In “A Suite of Dances,” Ulbricht could reveal his deeper, thoughtful side, which is not seen in the jaunty roles that he is most often cast.
Ulbricht is equally wonderful with Huxley in “Chopin Dances,” a sequel to Robbins’ “Dances at a Gathering” and “Other Dances.” Set to Chopin piano pieces, played expertly by Susan Walters, the Russian flavored dance is a sporty competition between the two. But they remain in check as the stage was small for a grand piano and two bold and expansive dancers.
The Stars of American Ballet topped off the night with “Interplay,” an octet that again showed Robbins at his best. The ballet is a romp for four men and four women who appear to be on an outing at the park. Again, the dancers hold back for fear of crashing into each other (there was a minor brush). It was worthwhile as “Interplay” creates a carefree, happy place where all is possible.
Stars of the American Ballet will dance through Sunday, Aug. 26 at Jacob's Pillow. I recommend you go.