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Pacific Northwest Ballet celebrates iconic American choreographer Jerome Robbins in a brimming, two-program festival featuring seven of Robbins’ most acclaimed works including West Side Story Suite, Afternoon of a Faun, Circus Polka, and In The Night. Robbins, who began his career as a corps member of Ballet Theater, is perhaps best known for his versatility as creator, having choreographed works for ABT, New York City Ballet, Broadway, and major motion pictures, conceiving ten plus musicals and a whopping sixty ballets over his lifetime. Robbins’ ability to transition from classically elegant phrase material to satirical comedy and back is a testament to his subtle choreographic nuance and unique contribution to the field; it was this assimilation of technical execution, classical movement, and humor which best describes the experience of watching Jerome Robbins Festival’s Program B, which featured Circus Polka, Dances at a Gathering, and The Concert.

Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering, which PNB is presenting as part of a two-part Robbins Festival to kick off its 2018-2019 season, September 21 – 29, 2018. Photo © Angela Sterling.

An hour-long series of solos, duets, and larger ensemble sections, Dances at a Gathering was flirtatious and playful, childlike and joyous in tone––made all the more entertaining in its choreographic and performative maturity. Dancers do-si-doed, engaged in subtle competitions for partnerships,  and created fleeting, tableaus-like images, all to waltzes and mazurkas composed by Frederic Chopin. The character, individuality, and vitality of the performers kept the movement fresh, carrying the work through until the very end.

Noelani Pantastico and Elizabeth Murphy in particular, offered stunning performances of Robbins’ work. Pantastico, clad in an apricot-colored chiffon dress impressed with her intricate footwork, sweeping traveling phrases, and integration of character. From her solos, which were often quick and articulate, to her duets and partner work, Pantastico commanded the stage with strength and precision, never failing to draw the audience in as she transitioned easefully from the fast-paced into the extended balance, or else surprised with moments of playful humor.

The Concert (or, The Perils of Everybody), which PNB is presenting as part of a two-part Robbins Festival to kick off its 2018-2019 season, September 21 – 29, 2018. Photo © Angela Sterling.

Murphy complemented Pantastico’s technique by bringing an ethereal grace to the stage––a sort of unique, spellbinding poise which seemed less a characteristic of the choreography and more a characteristic of her personal, technical prowess. The delicate articulacy of her hands, balances that seemed interminable, and combined technical and artistic mastery of her movement made every one of her entrances feel like a treat. The Dances at a Gathering ensemble as a whole proved altogether strong, diverse, and cohesive, making for a multidimensional and unified performance within the sectional nature of the choreography.

Dances at a Gathering as a full-length work, however, seemed self-indulgent in length. The piece said what it needed to about halfway through, at which point the couple behind me began groaning quietly each time a section ended only for a new one to begin. While the various etudes were tied together by characteristic rearrangement of partnerships and juxtaposition of the classical and idiosyncratic, they stopped feeling like contributions and started feeling more like obligatory add-ons. This was not true of The Concert (or, The Perils of Everybody), which seemed too short in comparison and left my previously inattentive neighbors cackling hysterically.

A satire on the bourgeois, on the collective experience of attending the symphony, and on the bizarre, stereotypical characters encountered along the way, The Concert is a comedy of errors which delves lightheartedly into the inner monologues and ludicrous daydreams of concert-goers as they listen to Chopin’s tinkling variations. From the arrogant, hat-clad snob of a woman who constantly berates her husband, to the shy boy, the pretentious intellectual, and the flirtatious, excessively-exuberant ballet dancer, The Concert was every audience member’s misgivings rolled into one hilarious tell-all.

Miles Pertl with company dancers in Jerome Robbins’ The Concert (or, The Perils of Everybody), which PNB is presenting as part of a two-part Robbins Festival to kick off its 2018-2019 season, September 21 – 29, 2018. Photo © Angela Sterling.

The audience howled as men in baby blue unitards, white collars, colorful ties, and grey flat caps ran female dancers across the stage, carrying them upside down, sideways, backwards––in every possible, every preposterous position one could imagine––as they bounced precariously up and down. Or as a corps of ballet dancers repeatedly botched steps in an all-too familiar way, attempting to camouflage mistakes with not-so-subtle subtle transitions or else realign fellow dancers with superior, accusatory glances. Feathered hats, human butterflies and all, The Concert was quirky, honest, and relatable.

With two Academy Awards, two Emmys, and a plethora of other notable distinguishments, there is no doubt that–in spite of the verbal abuse he often inflicted on his dancers–Jerome Robbins’ choreographic voice has made a lasting impression on dance for the ages. PNB dancers bring his visions to life with individuality and vigor, capturing movement at its essence and adding just a little more of their own. For extra love and humor, attend the evening performance of Program A (Circus Polka, In The Night, Afternoon of A Faun, Other Dances, and West Side Story Suite) or the Program B matinee on September 29.