"Roses," "Moves," "Symphony of Psalms"
Juilliard Dances Repertory 2016
New York, NY
March 23, 2016
by Carol Pardo
copyright © 2016 by Carol Pardo
Giving student dancers the opportunity to learn works made before they were born gives them a chance to learn something of their history and to become a part of it, putting their stamp on a piece as their performance lets it live another day. More specifically, this repertory program reflected the taste of Lawrence Rhodes, Director of the Dance Division at Juilliard since 2002. Both Jerome Robbins’ "Moves" and Jiři Kylián’s "Symphony of Psalms" have fascinated Rhodes since he first saw them, twenty years apart. According to the program notes, "Roses", by Paul Taylor (Juilliard ’53) filled the slot of "an inviting curtain-raiser".
And yet, "Roses" resonated longest and deepest. Dedicated to Edwin Denby, the dance pays tribute to the athleticism of dancers. But, Taylor being Taylor, always ready to slyly undercut expectations, rather than fashioning a slam bang virtuoso blow out, swathed this tribute in a lyrical celebration of romance, never tipping into sentimentality. "Roses" is also a balancing act in its composition. Five duets blossom from within the group of dancers, like dolphins breaking through the surface of the sea, only to sleekly disappear, in an unbroken arc. Just when one might be excused for thinking that the piece is over, Taylor brings on a single couple who dance an extended duet all alone, not a coda but a counterweight, upending expectations a second time.
With their scrupulous performance, these student dancers let the structure of the dance shine through. A couple of vertical lifts which should stun like a steel spike through silk didn’t quite deliver. Taylor’s style is harder to master than it looks, particularly compared to his company performing the same night only a block away, but "Roses" lives on.
Lawrence Rhodes first saw "Moves" in rehearsal in 1959 and was excited the consequences of setting a dance to silence: the concentration required of the community of dancers (dancers as a community is a constant theme in Robbins work) and the primacy given to the sounds of dancers at work, usually muffled by music. The sense of community came through most clearly after the first movement when the dancers stopped trying so hard to make noise. The central duet ended with the girl curling in her partner’s arms and rowing against his chest, a quiet confirmation of the power of a great partner and a moment of tenderness in a ballet which can tack to closely to Beat Generation alienation. The biggest surprise, however, was seeing Juilliard dancers, products of a program known for turning out modern dancers, in pointe shoes. The twain has met.
"Symphony of Psalms" brought Rhodes to tears the first time he saw it. Through no fault of the dancers, who looked completely at ease here, the most interesting aspect of the performances was the work required behind the scenes to bring the production to the stage. The original set consisted of hanging rugs, found in the flea markets of Amsterdam. Either the sets or costumes were in bad shape, or scaled to a stage larger than that at Juilliard, or in use—all things that one doesn’t usually consider while sitting in the audience waiting for the curtain to go up. The dance itself, for eight same-sex couples in rather drab colored costumes, the rugs, and a line of chairs stage left, does not reveal easily what it has to say. The dancers often face each other, presenting their backs to the audience. Is "Symphony in Psalms", like "Moves" a study in community or alienation?
One of the great pleasures of dance performances at Juilliard is the presence of live music. And how many dance companies can boast of two orchestras playing in one evening (one for Wagner and Heinrich Baermann in "Roses", the other for Stravinsky’s eponymous score)? Hats off to conductor George Manahan, choral director Kent Tritle and whoever figured out how to fit the chorus for "Symphony of Psalms" on the very narrow apron of the stage of the Peter J.Sharp Theater, a feat of choreography in itself.
Photographs by Rosalie O'Connor (from top to bottom)
Paul Taylor's Roses
Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Mikaela Kelly
Jerome Robbins's Moves
Victoria Grempel (maroon leotard)
Jiri Kylian's Symphony of Psalms