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  • Writer's pictureYumi La Blanca

Dancing with gratitude - ‘Balanchine and Robbins’ by the Royal Ballet

Balanchine and Robbins

The Royal Opera House reopened, despite limited audience capacity. How much we missed the experience of being seated in the gorgeous auditorium, appreciating live shows in the theatrical setting.

After featuring three ‘current’ ballet creators in the previous programme ‘21st Century Choreographers’, this triple bill ‘Balanchine and Robbins’ celebrates two big names of the 20th century, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, both made their fame in the USA. While it’s still hard to bring back full-length ballets, this production quenched our thirst for live performances in the theatre.

Virtuosity to grow, joy to express

From the vast collection of Balanchine’s works, they chose two pieces, ‘Apollo’ and ‘Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux’.

‘Balanchine and Robbins’ trailer

The neo-classical ‘Apollo’, originally made in 1928 to the music of Igor Stravinsky, depicts a mythological coming-of-age of the Greek god of music. Apollo interacts with the three muses of dance, poetry and mime, until he grows divinely to lead them to Mount Parnassus, a home of muses. Since these main characters symbolise indispensable components of performing arts, it’s like watching how the virtuosity of an artist develops. What makes us feel is that, while the lockdown interrupted this kind of artistic progress, it also provided the dancers with a time for reflection, a chance for regrowth, and a stronger urge for profound expressiveness, which could be sensed in their displayed performances.

‘Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux’, created for New York City Ballet in 1960, is much simpler but full of uplifting air. Ranging from a romantic partnership to a series of thrilling, dynamic moves, this short piece expresses the pure joy of dancing on stage, which was temporarily robbed during the pandemic. The invigorating energy reminds us of the sensation of watching live ballets, to be appreciated more than ever after lockdown.

‘Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux’ extract by Anna Rose O’Sullivan & Marcelino Sambé

Absence in presence

Enjoying the magnificent performances by individual dancers, on the other hand, I couldn’t help sensing a feeling of loss and pain floating in the theatre, or at least in my mind. Their artistic development and joy of dancing might be, in general, back on track now. Nonetheless, we can’t forget the premature departures of some artists, half empty seats, and lost lives… The absence is invisible but present. Although there is absolutely no element of sadness in the joyous production itself, I felt that what happened during the pandemic actually left a deep scar in our memories. We’re still in the process of recovery.

Dances at a Gathering - with gratitude

Not sure how it’s intended, but the Royal Ballet has displayed ‘Dances at a Gathering’ by Jerome Robbins three times within these two years - February 2020 that is before, September 2020 that is during, and June 2021 that is after, lockdown. In my previous review in September 2020, in the middle of the difficult times (therefore online streaming only), I described that this production was symbolic of the situation. It still is, but in a different way, at our gradual reawakening from lockdown.

Brown Boy enters as if he is looking for something - maybe companions, maybe inspirations, or even lost souls. Gradually, more dancers appear in different timings and feelings, starting conversations through dancing to the warm piano music of Frédéric Chopin. They get together, caring, communicating through dances, sometimes tenderly, sometimes mischievously, while never losing respect for individuality.

Thanks to the plotless yet tender atmosphere of this beautiful piece, the dancers’ promenades and poetic moves provoke our imaginations as well as emotions. In the particular context of our recovery from lockdown, their gathering in dance brings remedious companionship, lights of pastel colours to weave spiritual sceneries, inside which our injured hearts receive blessings. Coming back more mature, the Royal Ballet dancers give us a gift of gratitude to gently heal our scars through their graceful artistry.

‘Dances at a Gathering’ pas de deux by Francesca Hayward & William Bracewell

The yearning for dancing together - ‘Dances at a Gathering’ (my review in Sep 2020)

‘Balanchine and Robbins’ by the Royal Ballet, online streaming available until 11th July 2021


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