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Favorite Things

Favorite Things: Classicism and Romanticism

- By Mark Franko

Photo: Joseph Gordon in George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations (photo: Erin Baiano)

In 1970, George Balanchine added three new sections to his well-known one-act ballet showpiece Theme and Variations (1947). This spring New York City Ballet has been presenting Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3 as part of its Balanchine offerings. In its first iteration, Theme and Variations was an extended pas de deux with the interventions of a full corps de ballet—women first, men joining in toward the end—a sort of compressed nineteenth-century classical ballet presented for its own qualities of relative abstraction but still performed in regalia against a royal background as if it were an historical divertissement. Like...


Favorite Things

What Is a Classic?

- By Mark Franko

Photo: Ballets-USA program cover in 1958 (from the collection of Mark Franko)
 

In its continuing celebration of the 100th anniversary of Jerome Robbins this past winter season, New York City Ballet has revived one more Robbins work, a piece dating back to 1958—New York Export: Opus Jazz.[1] An ensemble work for sixteen dancers with a jazz-inspired score by Robert Prince and sets by Ben Shahn, New York Export: Opus Jazz was first shown on a tour of Robbins’s Ballets U.S.A. in Europe and later had its New York City premiere in an all-Robbins Broadway season.[2]

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Favorite Things

Favorite Things: Whither Vibrancy? How Long Relevance?

- By Mark Franko

Photo:  Francisco Moncion as the Angel of Death and Nicolas Magallanes as Orpheus in a studio portrait by George Platt Lynes based on Balanchine's Orpheus (1950). Used with permission.
 

At the time of this writing the New York City Ballet remains a company without an artistic director and continues to be overseen by an interim artistic team. Five principal male dancers are gone. Robert Fairchild has moved on; Joaquin De Luz retired; and, Chase Finlay, caught up in a sex abuse scandal, resigned. Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro, peripherally associated with Finlay’s problems, were dismissed last fall by the leadership team after having initially been suspended. Given such dramatic attrition in the ranks of leading male...


Favorite Things

Favorite Things: Robbins at 100

- By Mark Franko

Ballet, Gesture, and the Vernacular

Jerome Robbins is a legendary dance artist—not least because he succeeded as a choreographer in two quite antithetical domains: the Broadway musical and classical ballet. One might conclude that he was an innovator of dance theater (as opposed to theater dance), yet this would not do justice to the hybridity of his work. Like Agnes De Mille he revolutionized the American musical by tapping into the savoir-faire of the professional concert dancer and making dance do the work of story. Yet, starting in the 1940s, he also undertook to update ballet by introducing vernacular dance vocabulary into the classical lexicon. While these two are related projects, they are also distinctly different. Robbins’s career...


Favorite Things

Favorite Things: Excuse

- By Jonathan Berger

El Nora Alila, a twelfth-century acrostic piyut by Moshe ibn Ezra, is recited at the start of the powerfully evocative neila service which closes Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Neila (literally ‘the locking’ in Hebrew) affords the congregant and the congregation a final opportunity to own up to transgressions and seek repentance as the doors of heaven are closing and soon to be locked. In a vain attempt to resist the inevitable closing of the doors, the cantor begins the neila service, incanting:

Open the gates for us, as the gates are being closed.
The day is passing.
The day is setting.
The sun will descend and set.
Let us enter Your gates!

Hungry, thirsty, and weary from...


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