Community was the theme in the New York City Ballet Robbins + Peck program Thursday with Jerome Robbins’ 1969 Dances at a Gathering and Justin Peck’s 2014 Everywhere We Go. Both explore human interactions in group dynamics as dancers work in unison and subgroups.
Before the performance, I attended a donor event featuring Craig Hall, the NYCB Ballet Master who stages Peck’s works. He said that a big difference between staging the two works is that works from a living choreographer such as Peck evolve, with constant tweaks and alterations. This was the case with Everywhere We Go with Peck back from working on West Side Story (Director Steven Spielberg was in attendance Saturday). On the other hand, the company generally does not alter works from departed choreographers such as Robbins, who passed away in 1998,
Dances at a Gathering, set to 18 Chopin piano pieces, premiered in 1969. It marked Robbins’s return to New York City Ballet after a 13-year absence in which he choreographed many successful Broadway musicals. Before the premier, Robbins said: “I’m doing a fairly classical ballet to very old fashioned and romantic music, but there is a point to it. In a way it is a revolt from the faddism today. I find myself feeling just what is the matter with connecting, what’s the matter with love, what’s the matter with celebrating positive things?”
This plotless piece features five couples. Dancers come and go in various combinations, some solos, some duets. All dancers are not on stage at the same time until the finale. The ballet has a light, irreverent tone that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The steps are basic throughout with an array of combinations to keep things interesting: several solos, duets with various combinations, guys dancing together, women dancing together as dancers come and go throughout the piece. It is informal as if the dancers spontaneously gather as if to say, “Hey, here I am, let’s dance!” In one segment, the guys stand in an informal pose, arms on each other’s shoulders after a combination, watching what the women can do in their segment. The piece has several mazurka steps with exaggerated upper-body movements, a nod to the mazurkas of Chopin’s Polish homeland.
At the end of the piece, all ten dancers were on stage in a circle as if searching for something as the curtain fell.
Everywhere We Go is one of my favorite Peck works. It is a dynamic, multifaceted piece, with an explosion of movement from seven principal dancers, six support, and 12 Corps dancers. The work is set to a bold, brassy commissioned score by Sufjan Stevens, with costumes by former NYCB Principal Dancer Janie Taylor and illuminated shifting geometric backdrops by Karl Jenson.
There is a lot to take in during nine segments with constantly changing moods. Peck makes great use of Corps dancers as they form various patterns behind the lead dancers; a recurring theme is many tricky, non-standard lifts. In one segment, dancers are crouched down on near the ground as one pops up randomly; another segment illustrates the community spirit as dancers fall but are helped by another dancer racing across the stage.
Given the complicated array of movements and dynamic, inspiring score, Everywhere We Go rewards multiple viewings. NYCB will perform the Robbins + Peck program Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday next week in the company’s final week of the fall season. Check it out.