A Lord of the Dance

Ballet director Manuel Legris’ Homage to Jerome Robbins, premieres at the Staatsoper; Glass Pieces, Prufrock & more

Franziska Wallner-Hollinek and Eno Peci in Jerome Robbins: The Concert at the Wiener Staatsballet | Photos: Wiener Staatsballett/Dimo Dimov

In his latest dance confection for Vienna, Staatsoper ballet director Manuel Legris has brought us three hitherto never-danced-in-Vienna pieces from master showman Jerome Robbins (née Rabinowitz). Robbins was a polymath of dance, with the most eclectic collection of awards of any of the great choreographers, from an Oscar for film direction (West Side Story) to Tonys for Broadway musicals (Fancy Free, The King & I, West Side Story, The Pajama Game) through a French Legion of Honor.

Robbins likely did not deserve the last one, as one of the most active “namer of names” in his testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1953, leading to the blacklisting of dozens of colleagues and acquaintances (effective professional death).

Fundamentally a showman, first as a performer and then as a creator, Robbins felt that there should not be a divide between commercial artists and high art, i.e. a successful Broadway choreographer should be allowed to set ballet. The three works chosen by Legris showcase Robbins’ work as an avant-garde choreographer, a Romantic ballet master and a Broadway showman in turn.

In Glass Pieces

Who has one time heard the trombone of Glass Pieces from leading contemporary pianist and composer Philip Glass will never hear the trombone the same again. Each puff resonates through twenty beautiful figures moving at speed, changing the world with a precise gesture.

Glass Pieces drives the viewer into a profoundly meditative state. Colors, some light, sound, we are children again staring into a kaleidoscope. The piece opens casually enough with an army of colorfully-dressed pedestrians crossing back and forth across the stage. Periodically the crowd is interrupted by pairs, pink, emerald, blue, each’s affection tuned in a different way.

Natalie Kush and Shane A. Wuerthner were particularly touching in pink – she’s so small, fragile, and optimistic, Würthner taller and cool. The last few times I’ve seen him dance he’s been paired with dancers – like Olga Esina- who overwhelm him. His own talents shine brighter with a partner more petite.

Olga Esina makes her own appearance late in the lead role opposite Roman Lazik. Glass Pieces is written for diva ballerinas, like Olga Esina, whose endless limbs, noble carriage and schooled movements bring grace to the piece as she glides across its surface as if on wings. Glass Pieces demands of a dancer to be one with the music and this Esina masters. She is the perfect muse, here with no emotional demands to distract her from herself. In darkest shiniest Bordeaux red, Roman Lazik partners Olga Esina. Once again, Lazik shows himself a perfect partner, attentive to her every step, but one wishes that one day he himself would dance his own steps for himself.

In the corps-de-ballet, Andrey Teterin is easily the most impressive of the men – a secure, compelling presence in the middle or back of the pack. Uncertainty enters when he is front and center, a strange lingering stage fright. If he ever overcomes it, Teterin will be a force to be reckoned with, with his strong lines and forceful jump.

Paces In The Night

In the Night is guided by a piano solo, a rather limpid Chopin Nocturne.  At the risk of offending Chopin lovers, this is art of the simpering kind. Across a starlit stage, Robbins reveals three couples, in purple, in brown and in pink. Each dances a tender pas, with the occasional ethereal lift. At least on this evening, the piece never really took off, and none of the pairs grabbed any hearts.

Andrej Teterin, again let down by the uncertainty, returned to adequate partner Natalie Kush, who was radiant in her second leading role of the evening. Olga Esina and Roman Lazik take the stage second.

Again, Lazik is attentive, yet a cipher for his ballerina. Esina struggled with the trite emotions, ending up as in the first piece, like glass, the long flowing gown hiding her features and movements. It appears Vienna Staatsoper still does not have the right partner for Esina. Perhaps Eno Peci could do her justice.

The final couple Irina Tsymbal and Vladimir Shishov match one another perfectly, Tsymbal’s gentle curves fold into Shisov’s powerful arms. Shishov lifts Tsymbal like a feather. A passionate performer, Tsymbal shines with a strong emotion to communicate.

The Concert, or the Perils of Everybody

In the final piece, The Concert or the Perils of Everybody we see a lot of Peci. He delights the audience as the murderous and adulterous husband. Unrecognisable behind a false nose, he wears the role of the unhappy husband like his own dressing gown. He is well-paired with Irina Tsymbal as the ballerina, object of love. Franziska Wallner-Hollinek incarnates his grande dame wife perfectly, her native Vienna upbringing and aristocratic bearing serving her well.

Denys Cherevychko plays against character for once as the shy young man. Ludmila Trayan inspires no end of laughter as the energetic young woman, whether sitting next to the pianist or pushing people off their chairs. Igor Milos, Gabor Oberegger, the lovely Maria Alati and Marta Drastikova round off an excellent comic ensemble performance.

is a very strange piece oscillating from straight parody to Prufrock-like dark reflections on existence. Rather silly at first, until the unhappy husband kicks his would-be lover the ballerina, shortly after pantomiming the murder of his wife. The women are moved around like furniture, the curious misogyny bubbling just under the surface. The women are beautiful but annoying. Probably true. But then men are annoying too and don’t even have beauty to redeem them.

Parody of dance fills The Concert: whether in the Hungarian dance of the men or the extended ballet episode where the energetic girl can’t hold her place in the corps. Dancers get so tired of Swan Lake, Giselle and Les Sylphides that there is nothing they love more than a good bout of dance parody. They were all delighted to perform here and in the end, Robbins does have a point.

Talking of Michaelangelo

It’s damn hard to live and wherever you look, at a concert or a ballet or even in your own home, everything and everybody is annoying. Even your own mistress. Still, in this dance version of the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock there is much to enjoy. Tart like the fizz on champagne, but also like champagne, best consumed in moderation.


Staatsoper will be performing Jerome Robbins’s work throughout September 2011 and March 2012. For specific performances, see The Staastoper website:

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