Part One of the program gave audiences a glimpse at Robbins' stunning choreography to Leonard Bernstein's Fancy Free, a ground-breaking ballet that first brought him fame in 1944. Cheryl Ossola's program notes summarize the story: "Three sailors on shore leave in New York City are out to have a good time: and that means girls. But as luck would have it, they find only two. The tension of the three-guys/two-gals scenario leads to a dance-off, as the men try to impress the women (and get a date)." Much as West Side Story did for the Big Apple of the 1950's, Fancy Free painted a picture of Manhattan street life in the 1940's. It would ultimately inspire the Comden/Green/Bernstein musical On the Town.
Part Two of the evening offered Robbins' original choreography to Fr_d_ric Chopin's nocturnes in In the Night. Staged by Victor Castelli, the romantic ballet for three couples served as an elegant centerpiece to the overall program.
Finally, the Company performed Robbins' timeless dances with Bernstein and Sondheim's legendary vocals in this ballet staging of the West Side Story Suite. The Suite - which premiered at New York City Ballet in 1995- incorporates such numbers as "Dance at the Gym," "Cool," "America," and "Somewhere." This piece significantly allows members of the ballet corps to add another dimension to themselves as performers by stepping out of the norm in order to sing the difficult vocal parts that most audiences know and love.
When staging the Suite, permission must be granted by original book writer Arthur Laurents, lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and the Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins estates- which requires that the dance company hold singing auditions. When the ballet was first mounted at New York City Ballet, performers from the Broadway production of Jerome Robbins' Broadway were brought in as Anita and Rosalia. When the piece has been performed since then, professional singers often perform or augment some of the songs. This San Francisco Ballet premiere was one of the few instances where Company members performed all vocals.
San Francisco Ballet's Tribute to Jerome Robbins performed from March 6 through March 20. Next on the calendar (beginning April 1) is a week-long Program 6, featuring visiting companies including the National Ballet of Canada and the New York City Ballet.
For information and tickets, visit www.sfballet.org
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All photos by Erik Tomasson for San Francisco Ballet.