‘Like He Was Going to Live Forever’: Making Jerome Robbins’s Last Ballet

Jerome Robbins was not feeling well in the winter of 1995. He created “West Side Story Suite,” a condensed version of his 1957 hit Broadway musical, for the New York City Ballet earlier that year, and began work on a new pas de deux for the two pas de deux. bottom. Principal dancers Lourdes Lopez and Nicolai Hübbe. By December, it became clear that he needed heart surgery. Over the next few months, he began exhibiting symptoms suggestive of Parkinson’s disease and had a bad fall that affected his balance.

Nevertheless, he continued to work with City Ballet on new dances for the next two years. , imitating me and moving around with stiff legs,” he wrote to his friend, the choreographer Andy de Groat. “It’s a very difficult task for me right now.”

On January 22, 1997, the birthday of George Balanchine, co-founder of the City Ballet, the new ballet “Brandenburg”, a selection of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, finally debuted.

The 40-minute dance created an idyllic, idyllic atmosphere. A playful, youthful group that seems charming and spontaneous. The reviews were enthusiastic – “choreographically, he’s outdone himself here,” Anna Kisselgoff wrote in The New York Times – and so was the audience. I bowed at

But the “Brandenburg”, last danced in 2008, fell out of the repertoire. May 10th, i will be back After a gap of 15 years.

“I don’t know why it hasn’t been done for so long,” said Wendy Whelan, one of the production’s original principal dancers and the company’s associate artistic director. “I know Jerry thought he wasn’t perfect. And I think it’s the protein of the company.” Robbins added, “It really shaped us as American dancers.”

Physically and emotionally fragile, Robbins may never have felt that the ballet was truly over. The creation was long and difficult for him and for many dancers. “Jerry was on heart medication. His memory faded and he could barely move.

“He would have had things in mind that he couldn’t necessarily articulate to us,” said Benjamin Millepied, another original cast member. But in general it was OK. It took months to show the work to different people in the studio. I think he was used to the Broadway process of workshops and workshops. (Millepied added that the dancer recorded his Robbins during one of his rehearsals and created the song out of it.)

“What’s amazing is how youthful and exuberant this ballet is,” said Frohlich, who is directing the revival. “Mr. Balanchine did all these dark and morbid ballets towards the end of his life. Jerry lived like he was going to live forever.”

However, Robbins died 18 months later on July 29, 1998. “Brandenburg” was the last ballet he created.

Looking back, his eye for talent and potential was astonishing. The principals who created Ballet now all run major companies. Whelan (with Artistic Director Jonathan Stafford) at City Ballet. Lopez is Artistic Director of Miami City Ballet, Denmark He Royal He Ballet Hübbe, Pacific He North West He Ballet Peter He Ball. The 16-man ensemble included future principals Millepied, James Fayette, Sebastian Markovich, Jenny Somogyi, and future choreographer Christopher Wheeldon.

During the video call, two of the principal dancers shared their memories of Robbins and ballet creation. Below is an edited excerpt of the conversation.

Lourdes Lopez and Nicolai Hübbe

Havebe He started with this pas de deux for us and I think he had a clear idea of ​​what he was going to do with it, the idea of ​​us not touching each other He actually choreographed it very quickly. It was this very slow rhythm, almost hypnotic. Usually he had 20 versions of everything he did, but this was very early on. he didn’t mess with it.

Lopez I remember wondering if this was a workshop or something bigger. There was no discussion of it. Jerry would normally provide us with ballet synopses and very specific nuggets of his intentions and ideas, but here he really didn’t.

But he knew what he wanted from us. I remember the moment our hands circled, but without touching, he said, “Like ‘Giselle’.” From the beginning there was an understanding that these were two souls passing each other.

Havebe That we can’t connect, there was a crossroads where we might get together, but we miss each other. You’re so close you can feel the heat from your opponent’s hand. It was like static electricity between us.

Jerry can be tough, but when he was taking these steps on us, he was very humble and very vulnerable. you wanted to hug him

Lopez He wasn’t kind when the corps came in, but by then he was pretty weak. He was mentally and physically frail, so working with the group was hard on him. said he wanted to see half of But it was because he was out of control. I felt like he understood that he wouldn’t be around for long.

Wendy Whelan and Peter Ball

Boal Sometimes Jerry would pull people in to work on a project, but he wasn’t sure if it would lead to anything. But it was an honor. By the time Wendy and I walked in, he was making pas de deux with Lourdes and Nick.

Whelan During rehearsals, I felt like I was in a sketchbook. He sketched and erased, drafted and collaged it. He was twisting and shaping like I was a wire. He was playing with the curvy nature I had.

Boal There were some obvious partnerships, but ours weren’t. But I think Jerry understood that while our bodies and styles were complementary, they were very different.

Whelan We were juxtapositions, puzzles to fit together. He was very happy with the four principals. He knew we loved to nibble on work.

He was more nervous when there was a crowd. We were fully aware that he was feeling his age. They giggled and got nervous about him, which he hated. Sometimes we had to send dogs into the studio.

Boal Dancers lined up like lemmings appear to the dance of four couples! One cast was tried, not invited, another cast after another. Around that time he fell off his bike and had balance problems. He was so angry that he couldn’t show his moves the way he wanted.

But the funny thing is, I think some of the best choreography was in Dance for Eight. material flowed. Ultimately, he probably created his 90-minute choreography and used 40 minutes. I think he really had it in his head. He felt his death, his body weakening. He was always obsessed with his talents and work and self-defeating. This was his first true premiere in years and he felt this great monstrous monster hovering over him and I think he couldn’t meet it.

Whelan The stakes were high. He probably knew it was his last work. He wanted everything to be perfect and glorious.

Boal I remember having a hard time bowing in the finale.peter [Martins, the company’s leader at the time] Came to see 45 minutes of material and said: I could give you another year, but it’s already been two years. ” Peter was right. Had he waited another year, it might not have happened. I admire Peter for making that difficult decision and Jerry for taking his advice. And he really pulled off a major premiere. He can argue about how good the ballet was, but I found it great.

Whelan I remember Jerry laughing and saying “champagne bubbles” in the finale. He wanted us to run, jump and swim to the music and live happily.

What Jerry taught us is to not act, to be real, to be you, not fake. What we want to see is the human spirit, and that is where the beauty lies.

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