Monday, 19 May 2014

REVIEW: Glass Pieces - Jerome Robbins, New York City Ballet

Jerome Robbins' three-part 'Glass Pieces' is a powerful and quick-moving exploration of traditional ballet vocabulary intermixed with postmodern work, accompanied by music composed by Philip Glass. Set against a graph paper backdrop, the New York City Ballet dancers' fast pace and sudden bursts of energy are reminiscent of the unmistakable urban energy of the city. 

The work opens with the full cast walking swiftly about the stage, dressed in costume designer Ben Benson's mismatching shades of red, pink, blue, green, gold and grey. The space is alive with bodies and colour, as the dancers charge forward through a scene that could be a busy train station or city street. Glass' Rubric with its repeated rhythms, shifting patterns and sweeping force drives the dancers through the space. From the outset Robbins asserts and captures the repetitive and fast paced energy of urban American life. Amongst the chaos of the dancers, sudden bursts of energy erupt as female dancers are lifted by their male counterparts, and as soloists suddenly jump or leap before returning to a fast walk. The sporadic bursts of energy are crisp amongst the fast pace of the dancers' abrupt changes in direction.

The second part, set to Glass' Facades, sees the female corps de ballet lined against the back of the stage. The silhouetted bodies of the female dancers roll across the front of the backdrop as they perform bouncy walks and repeated sustained arm movements and pliés, which match the tempo and rhythm of the music. In front of them an intimate and athletic duet unfolds, performed by principal dancers Wendy Whelan and Adrian Danchig-Waring. Whelan is carried on and off stage by Danchig-Waring, lifted at the waist, her arms and legs effortlessly split and held almost horizontally. Facades has a much slower pace overall, yet the direct correlation of movement to music maintains the steady pace of the entire work. 

Finally, 'Glass Pieces' is concluded with an incredibly powerful and driving performance by the male dancers of the cast, accompanied by an excerpt from Glass' opera 'Akhnaten', Funeral of Amenhotep. The men respond to the fast rhythm of the hammering drums and drawn out strings by grounding themselves into the floor, as they run and leap in unison, before the female corps de ballet rejoin them for the conclusion of the work. The rich, deep sounds of Funeral of Amenhotep is distinctly different from Rubric and Facades, separating the conclusion from the rest of the work and creating a successful climax to the ballet.

'Glass Pieces' is a hugely expansive and athletic ballet that consumes the space and breathes Glass' score. Robbins is successful in creating a dazzling ballet that incorporates the elements of postmodernism and examines the fast pace of urban life. 

Georgina Pazcoguin and Adrian Danchig-Waring talk about how the corps makes the dance in this Robbins favorite with music by Philip Glass.

Choreography: Jerome Robbins
Composer: Philip Glass
Production design: Robbins, Ronald Bates
Costume design: Ben Benson
Lighting design: Ronald Bates
Conductor: Clotilde Otranto