Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 23, 2018

REVIEW: Jacob’s Pillow, Stars of American Ballet

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, MA
through August 26, 2018
by Josephine Sarnelli

Imagine you had an opportunity to have 14 of the finest dancers with the New York City Ballet perform five works by one of America’s most renown choreographers….and that two of those pieces could be danced to live music provided by accomplished soloists. That is exactly what Daniel Ulbricht’s “Stars of American Ballet” brought to the stage.

Jerome Robbins was born in 1918 in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. To celebrate the centennial of his birth, along with his contributions to American ballet, the entire program consisted of selections from his many masterpieces. Whether performed to the music of Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Bach or Stravinsky, Robbins’ choreography was always clearly American.

Photo by Christopher Duggan
Indiana Woodward and Andrew Veyette opened the program with “Andantino,” a pas de deux best described as intimate and sweet, including the last parting lift.  The traditional ballet movements in this piece were relaxed by the jazz overlay.

The unusual ratio of two male performers to one female dancer in “Concertino” opened up new opportunities for experimentation to Robbins. Some the aerial movements were very complicated, and the dancers appeared apprehensive on at least one maneuver. Otherwise, their coordination was magnificent.

The highlight of the evening was “A Suite of Dances,” performed by Ulbricht with Ann Kim on cello. Although technically a solo, it had the texture of a duet because of the exchange between dancer and musician. As contradictory as it might seem, the fusion of classic ballet with cartwheels and forward rolls worked well to the music of Bach. Of significance was the immediate connection Ulbricht formed with his audience.

Ulbricht again shined in “Chopin Dances,” which he performed with Anthony Huxley. Robbins’ partnering of two male dancers allowed for some good-natured competitiveness and impressive aerial lifts, using the rotational momentum of the dancers.

Although first choreographed in 1945, “Interplay” remains ageless and fresh, and an excellent choice for a finale. Four couples playfully danced to the jazz score.  It resembled parts of Robbins’ “West Side Story” in its division into two competitive teams, albeit these were more good-natured. Sebastian Villarini-Velez performed multiple tours en l'air in the second set. Cartwheels, leapfrog and back-to-back rolls added to the swing-time beat of the music.

What better way to end the 86th season at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival than with an iconic American ballet, choreographed by an American legend?