Friday, March 14, 2008

Melville at the Ballet

Tonight we went to the ballet. My roommate Michelle caught wind that the San Francisco Ballet was performing West Side Story, and that was it. We were in. In truth, it was a tribute to Jerome Robbins comprising three pieces all originally choreographed by him:
  • Fancy Free (Robbins' first piece of choreography or, at least, his first professional one) was about three sailors on shore leave in NYC during WWII. Of course they meet two girls--not enough girls--and try to dance and vie for the female attention. The women like it, then they don't, then they do, then, you know, they don't. And the men find themselves chasing a third--the blue-dressed girl posing so coyly to the right here (see photo). This ballet inspired, apparently, the WWII movie-musical On the Town (a movie I borrowed more than once from the Sayville Public Library, back in the day, liking it, of course, for its white and bright depiction of WWII homefront culture, which I always love, but also for its presentation of a female paleontologist, one of the female leads, which I thought was probably pretty hip and cutting-edge for a film from that era) and was Jerome Robbins' first collaboration with Leonard Bernstein, a collaboration that turned out, pretty quickly, to be a good idea.
  • In the Night, in which three pairs of lovers each dance a love duet under a moon and a starry sky, before they take the stage together for a final scene of meeting, greeting, and, before too long, whisking away with their loved one for places they'd prefer to be. The nocturnes were played by a solo pianist. (Is that necessarily true? Are nocturnes necessarily solos for piano?) It was, actually, super lovely. The three couples were choreographed to represent different kinds/stages of loves: the first was a young couple, eager and happy; the second, an older, more mature couple, representing a more stable, restrained, and consistent love (though this was sometimes a little hard for me to discern in the dancing, except that their costumes were brown and gold, much more staid-ish than the grey and lavender of the young couple--I got that: older couple, drabbier colors; younger couple: prettier stuff); the final couple wore black and a sort of rusty reddish color--they were kind of a fiery pair, passionate and temperamental, who reconcile eventually when the female dancer kneels before the proud lover and with both hands, lightly touches his waist, his thighs, his knees, his feet, finally resting her head and her arms on the ground before him. Powerful stuff, I tell you. (Powerful if, as the program noted, problematic. I wasn't worried too much about the woman's offering as problematic--women make mistakes and need forgiveness too, yes?--mostly because in all, it was super, super beautiful.)
  • The final piece was West Side Story, which was moving and great, but perhaps primarily because we were watching the most famous and cool moves from the movie performed live and on stage. Jerome Robbins choreographed the movie and then reproduced some of the dances for that Jerome Robbins revue that was on Broadway in the 1990s (Jerome Robbins Broadway, I think), so this was authentic (and hot) stuff. There were the Jets and the Sharks, greased hair and tees, snapping and fighting and leaping. It was a thirty-minute version without dialogue but--are you ready?--with singing. The dancers--some of them--sang. The program had a very interesting little article about the process of coaching the dancers, classically trained in the art of restrained movement, to become vocal performers, to feel confident even making vocal noise on stage (one dancer said that it was fun to speak without having to feel guilty that someone might hear her). A few of the numbers ("Something Coming," "Somewhere," maybe more) had professional singers in the wings singing in place of the dancers, but the chorus numbers were all dancer-singers (again, just the ballet's company dancers, not musical theatre special hires), as well as numbers like "Cool," "Puerto Rico," and probably whatever else there was. Anyway, it was--it was lovely. And when it was over, we clapped and clapped, and I didn't feel strained, even, by the three curtain calls.
So that's it. Melville hit the ballet. Classical ballet tends to bore me, I think (as does, alas, often the opera). I am the girl who likes my country pop-y. But give me ballet meets Broadway? I'm there.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

Oh wow and yeah. I think this looks like an excellent performance. I've got to convince the man in my life that we should be seeing ballet. Also, are you coming to NY this week?