PNB mines memory for Jerome Robbins' masterpiece
Jerome Robbins' masterpiece "Dances at a Gathering" will be performed by Pacific Northwest Ballet for the first time May 28-June 7. Ben Huys, who used to dance for Robbins at New York City Ballet, is in Seattle to stage the work.
Seattle Times arts writer
"Director's Choice"Pacific Northwest Ballet, 7:30 p.m. Thursday-May 30 and June 4-6, 2 p.m. May 30, and 1 p.m. June 7, McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $25-$155 (206-441-2424 or www.pnb.org).
Jerome Robbins always insisted, sometimes vehemently, that his ballet masterpiece "Dances at a Gathering" had no story. But, as dancer Sara Leland recalled in an interview around the time of its 1969 New York City Ballet (NYCB) premiere, the choreographer told the original cast that it was about memory: "It's a dance of recall, a dance of remembrance. And you're thinking, 'Oh yes, I used to dance here at one time. And I did this step. Oh yes. Dee-dum. Oh yes, that's the way it was.' "
Making its Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) premiere in the repertory program "Director's Choice" (beginning Thursday), "Dances at a Gathering" is a lyrical, hourlong work for five couples, set to a number of Chopin piano selections and performed as a series of short scenes. It was Robbins' triumphant return to ballet (and to NYCB) after an absence of a dozen years, during which he had focused on musical theater ("Fiddler on the Roof," "Gypsy," "A Funny Thing Happen on the Way to the Forum").
A famous story in ballet lore has George Balanchine, Robbins' mentor at NYCB, watching a rehearsal of "Dances" and demanding "More, more!"
Ben Huys, who danced for Robbins at NYCB in the 1990s and is now in Seattle staging the work for PNB, said that "Dances" is being rediscovered since the choreographer's death in 1998.
"When he was alive, it was so rare that he would let [other] companies perform his ballets," Huys said. Were Robbins here in Seattle, he would have insisted on "six, seven weeks" with the dancers, with every cast member present even if they weren't dancing in the rehearsed scene.
"You can't do that any more," said Huys. "It's about getting things on."
Huys, who said he danced probably every male role in "Dances," remembered that Robbins in rehearsal would emphasize connection between the dancers. "I think the most important thing that he would focus on is relationships and looking at each other," he said. "He would constantly scream, 'Look at her, look at him!' "
Robbins didn't give his dancers hints about their characters, and neither does Huys. "[Robbins] would say, 'Whatever you want to put into it is fine.' I tell them, this is your space. 'Dances' is a very intimate ballet, almost like you're looking through a keyhole. I tell them, 'Just dance, listen to the music. The music will tell you what to do.' "
Also on the "Director's Choice" program is the PNB premiere of Christopher Wheeldon's pas de deux from the ballet "After the Rain," and Balanchine's regal "Symphony in C," in the company's repertory for more than 20 years.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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