New York City Ballet marked the centennial of its cofounding choreographer and Broadway legend Jerome “Jerry” Robbins on Thursday evening at its spring gala.
The event’s five-part performance showcased various facets of the Robbins repertoire, incorporating elements of humor, classicism and jazzy Americana.
Guests including Sarah Jessica Parker, Ansel Elgort and Bill Nye — the science guy — were privy to the premiere of “Something to Dance About,” a Broadway-scale production that combined vignettes from each of Robbins’ smash hits.
Choreography from “West Side Story,” “Funny Girl,” “The King and I,” “On the Town” and “Gypsy” — as well as the decidedly more somber “Fiddler on the Roof ” — were dramatically restaged with balletic high-kicks and pointed feet. The performance required more than 120 costumes.
“He is everything, it’s storytelling, it’s incredible technique, impeccable taste and musicality — everything he expresses at the ballet, he expresses on Broadway. He is a master storyteller, a master humorist — it’s a huge honor to represent him this evening,” said Warren Carlyle, the Broadway choreographer responsible for the arrangement of “Something to Dance About.”
While he would have turned 100 years old in October, many of Robbins works are praised an enduring contemporary sensibility.
“These stories still exist — the immigrants who danced in ‘America’ are now people trekking across Europe, the conflict in ‘West Side Story’ and its love affair, those guys going off to war in ‘On the Town’ all those things still exist in our culture,” Carlyle said of Robbins’ topical language.
Principal dancer Maria Kowroski, 41, is the last active company member to have worked under Robbins’ eye. “What always stood out about his work is that he wanted you to feel like a human. He encouraged you to be yourself, it brings you back down to earth,” she said of his real-life-type choreography.
Dancer Joaquín de Luz, who Thursday evening debuted the solo role of “A Suite of Dances,” originally danced by Mikhail Baryshnikov, said of Robbins’ appeal: “Jerry wanted people on stage. He wanted your personality to come through to the audience.”
Current NYCB interim artistic director and former principal dancer Jonathan Stafford added: “I think you are dancing more toward each other than toward the audience — we would forget the audience was there in pieces like ‘Interplay’ or ‘Dances at a Gathering’ and it would just create this atmosphere of community. It was always such a fun time.”
Stafford noted that Robbins, “really created the American style of dance. When he came around, dance was new to America — there was Russian, there was French but he really created the American style — it still resonates today.”