Joaquin De Luz with Tiler Peck in "Dances at a Gathering." (Photo by Paul Kolnik)
I was once told that Jerome Robbins’ “Dances at a Gathering” is a delicate ballet. One little misstep and the dance for 10 sinks like a cooled soufflé.
The problem is, it’s an hour long and during that hour, not much happens. Couples convene, dissemble and reassemble. But there is hardly any big moments, just tender or sweet ones.
Being a lover of bold strokes, I ventured to Saratoga Performing Arts Center with some trepidation to see New York City Ballet in “Dances at a Gathering” on Tuesday night. I felt like “Dances” was something to be endured while I awaited the delightfully funny “The Concert (Or the Perils of Everybody).”
I was pleasantly surprised. Once I resolved to strap myself in for the long stroll through the park, I was able to take in the simplicity of the ballet and enjoy its for what it is – a homage to Chopin’s airy piano pieces and to youthful spontaneity.
Of course it helped that the ballet began with Joaquin De Luz, a City Ballet treasure who infuses a blissful wonder into everything he does. He surveys the nearly cloudless sky and what is easily imagined as a sprawling landscape -- and likely to Robbins’ mind a wide canvas to draw on the friendships of the 10.
Among the best dances was the one between Indiana Woodward and Joseph Gordon who were animated in their lively duet. Tiler Peck, who naturally exudes a girl-next-quality, is ideal for the ballet and was a standout with Rebecca Krohn and Brittany Pollack.
Pianist Susan Walter, performing on stage, was perfection.
The ending of “Dances” is legendary. The dancers – standing still – turn their heads slowly as if watching a cloud glide by. And that gesture defines the ballet’s experience, one that requires time and a hushed attention to appreciate.
Robbins’ “The Concert,” on the other hand, only requires a sense of humor. This silly ballet, again to music by Chopin, follows the drama on and off stage at a piano concert. The fastidious pianist, the beleaguered, cigar-smoking husband, the scolding wife, the dreamy ingénue who lives for music and a cast of ancillary characters keep audience chuckling.
One of the best scenes features the ballerinas. Placed on stage like mannequins, they bumble through a ballet only getting it right at the final tableau.
Meanwhile, the husband (Andrew Veyette) tries to run off with the ingénue (Sterling Hyltin) to the wrath of the wife (Meaghan Dutton-O’Hara) in a slapstick style chase that forces the pianist (Elaine Chelton) to slam her piano shut and go after them herself as the curtain descends.
The juxtaposition of these dances demonstrates Robbins’ versatility, sensitivities and his comic sensibilities. He was a master, one that New York City Ballet was lucky to have in its orbit for so long. The centennial celebration of his birth in 2018 should be spectacular.