Texas Ballet Theater Presents: Classic Combination. Études - Leticia Oliveira and Simon Wexler. Bolt Production Texas Ballet Theater
Texas Ballet Theater Presents: Classic Combination. Études - Leticia Oliveira and Simon Wexler. Bolt Production Texas Ballet Theater

Living

Texas Ballet Theater to stage rare comic ballet by Jerome Robbins

By Mark Lowry

Special to the Star-Telegram

February 21, 2016 07:29 AM

This weekend, Texas Ballet Theater presents its first of two mixed-repertory showcases this season, and this program, Classic Combination, is especially notable in that it marks the first time TBT has staged a ballet by the great Jerome Robbins.

Perhaps even more noteworthy is that The Concert (or, The Perils of Everybody), which premiered at the New York City Ballet in 1956, is a rare comic ballet.

You might think comedy is a stretch for a company that’s heavy on the story-ballet warhorses and the more serious works of Balanchine and Ben Stevenson. Then again, if you know Stevenson’s zany side — frequently showcased in the crowd scenes of the story ballets and especially in the party scene in The Nutcracker — it makes sense.

“We are all used to not being afraid to look silly,” says principal dancer Carolyn Judson, who dances the role of The Ballerina in The Concert. “We’re used to portraying other characters. In Ben’s works, there’s some flexibility; he lets you find the character for yourself. [The Concert] is different because it is very specific in the timing and the comedic responses, so that makes it challenging in a new way.”

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Robbins, who is probably best known for his brilliant choreography in such musicals as West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof and The King and I, was at the New York City Ballet at roughly the same time as another important choreographic figure of the 20th century, George Balanchine.

Set to music by Chopin, The Concert uses several archetypical characters (Chatty Girl, Shy Boy, etc.) in repeatedly humorous situations. It also uses an onstage pianist who has more than just playing to do. Shields-Collins “Buddy” Bray, principal keyboardist for the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, takes that role.

TBT principal dancer Carl Coomer, who plays The Husband, and played another role in the piece when he danced it for Stevenson at the Houston Ballet, welcomes the challenge.

“It’s not challenging with the acting performance, because with Ben’s company we are very good actors,” Coomer says. “What people have been challenged with more is the very specific timing it has. There’s not as much freedom in it, as far as gestures and so forth, and if one person is slightly off, it doesn’t work. It’s not technically demanding, but we’re all puffy [out of breath] by the end.”

Dancing ‘naked’

The Classic Combination program also features another work that premiered at the New York City Ballet in 1956, Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante, set to Tchaikovsky music. The other work is the company premiere of Harald Lander’s Etudes, which debuted at the Royal Danish Ballet in 1948.

Lander’s work, set to music by Carl Czerny, is about a ballet company, beginning with dancers at the barre and ending with their “performance.”

“It starts out with what we call the black barre,” says Johnny Eliasen, who’s serving as repetiteur for the work, making his TBT debut. He has set the work for London Festival Ballet, the Norwegian National Ballet and many other companies since the late 1980s. “Before that they have done stretches and they are warming up, and we progress from there into big jumps at the end, how the ballet itself progresses.”

“It’s a fantastic ballet for dancers to do,” he adds. “It’s a ‘naked’ piece, and there’s no hiding behind big costumes and sets and mime and all that.”

Classic Combination adds a mixed-rep program to the TBT season, which typically just has one in the lineup. This allows the dancers to learn more works from other choreographers, including new works and choreographic styles.

“No one really wants to be thought of as just one type of dancer; we want to be able to stretch ourselves,” says Judson. “When you think about it, we’ve been dancing for all our lives, so learning something new is important.”

Classic Combination