Duet to Me One More Time

A master's 1958 ballet revived, a 1951 film classic staged, and lovers twining in new ways

Rutherford (horizontal) and Hall in Robbins's N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz
photo: Paul Kolnik
Rutherford (horizontal) and Hall in Robbins's N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz

Just prior to the gala, an epochal ballet made its NYCB debut: Jerome Robbins's New York Export: Opus Jazz, made in 1958 for his short-lived company, Ballets: U.S.A. Set to a commissioned score by Robert Prince, with backdrops by Ben Shahn, it premiered at Italy's first Spoleto Festival in 1958, astounding a public to whom the words jazz and ballet were antithetical, and who had rarely seen classically trained dancers wearing sneakers and egging on another on in dance contests that looked spontaneous. The NYCB audience seems equally thrilled to see young NYCB dancers (all but one corps members) slouching, casual, loose and weighted in their moves. These are the kids of West Side Story with slightly better manners and only friendly rivalry, delineated through terrifically designed choreography. A scene in which a flirtatious woman gets more than she bargained for from a predatory bunch of guys and a slow, poignant duet in place for a couple (interracial, as in the original cast, and eloquently performed by Rachel Rutherford and Craig Hall) provide the thought provoking moments. The other sections are bright, inventive, and bumptious, and under the direction of Edward Verso (who did the sensitive restaging) and the NYCB ballet masters, the dancers project the naturalness that Robbins so prized.

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