Genius at Play: Robbins & Boston Ballet

Genius at Play: Robbins & Boston Ballet

The ballet opens with a performance you can take in with your eyes closed.  It ends with a performance that makes you feel like your eyes are closed and your thoughts are dancing before you.  Boston is celebrating the centenial of Leonard Bernstein who also happened to be a lifelong friend of Jerome Robbins’. Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins in their own rights and collaboratively help define Americana.  The sound and sights they created just exude an American vibe.  It is playful and sassy.  It is jazzy and a little gritty.  It is immature/childish and sophisticated/sexy.

The first performance is played by the Boston Ballet orchestra and is Leonard Bernstein’s overture to Candide.  It was a wonderful way to set the tone for the evening.  Sitting and just listen to the music for a moment was a treat.  We live in a time of over-everything.  We have social media flashing, beeping, and taunting us all day.  We have work, emails and phone calls on us 24/7.  A night in the opera house (where hopefully everyone has turned off their phones) is just what we could all use.

Boston Ballet in Jerome Robbin's Interplay; photo by Rosalie O'Connor; courtesy of Boston Ballet
Boston Ballet in Jerome Robbin’s Interplay; photo by Rosalie O’Connor; courtesy of Boston Ballet

One of my favorite things to watch while Boston Ballet is on break are the dance shows on tv.  I am a little obsessed with So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Got Talent and the newcomer World of Dance.  I love seeing the creativity and talent of people from all over the world.  I love hearing their stories and rooting for their success.  What I don’t love is the over production.  The excessive angst.  The same poses and crazy tricks each out doing one another.  Dance isn’t about the pictures you create it has to be more than that.  Dance isn’t about just the big feelings that life serves us there are a million shades in between.  Don’t get me wrong those shows have highlighted some incredible choreography and music too, but it sometimes gets lost in the rest of it all.  That’s why Genius at Play was so refreshing.

Interplay, Fancy Free, and Glass Pieces strips things down.  There are gorgeous turns and high jumps and all the tricks, but that’s just one small layer.  The costumes are beautiful colourful splashes of simplicity.  The dances evoke laughter and emotion, but it is the kind that floats over and through you and isn’t thrown in your face.

The other thing I love about going to the ballet is that the arts can reflect life back to you.  Whatever stage of life you are in or moments you are experiencing, the dances can sometimes take on that theme themselves.  Genius at Play had an almost “Back to School” feel that both Isabelle and I noticed.  Interplay had a moment when the dancers were picking teams.  There were cartwheels and a little friendly teasing like the kind you find at recess in school everywhere. There was a little history lesson as I even caught some nods to Bob Fosse in there too.  The music was bright and upbeat and the dancing kept up with the fast pace.  The simple lighting had dramatic effects.  Sometimes simple is best.

Boston Ballet in Jerome Robbin's Fancy Free; photo by Rosalie O'Connor; courtesy of Boston Ballet
Boston Ballet in Jerome Robbin’s Fancy Free; photo by Rosalie O’Connor; courtesy of Boston Ballet  (Left to right:  Maria Alvarez, Kathleen Breen Combes, Patric Palkens, Paul Craig, Isaac Akiba)

Fancy Free is like a broadway show.  The three sailors: Patric Palkens, Isaac Akiba, and Paul Craig were a veritable Laurel and Hardy crew.  You couldn’t help but fall in love with Kathleen Breen Combes when she held her own as a strong albeit love struck lass dancing with Paul Craig and company.

It is sometimes hard to watch a period piece (1944, a hot summer night on a NYC side street) and not be uncomfortable with something that was just once funny and cute.  Isabelle and I talked about how this is history and what might have once been seen as playful in 1944 is a clear case of harrassment now.  That’s what felt most awkward to me, but what bothered Isabelle more was how the three female passers-by were being objectified (her words).  This is an interesting thing.  I mean at some point in our lives we objectify each other regardless of gender.  It’s part of love, and lust and all that jazz. Humans are all dealing with redrawing lines and the only way to do that is to look back and then look forward.  Erase our mistakes and redraw.  With all that being said, it was a fun piece that had us laughing, traveling back in time, and seeing a little piece of 1940’s New York.  It also left us with plenty of food for thought.

Lia Cirio and Paulo Arrais in Jerome Robbin's Glass Pieces; photo by Rosalie O'Connor; courtesy of Boston Ballet
Lia Cirio and Paulo Arrais in Jerome Robbin’s Glass Pieces; photo by Rosalie O’Connor; courtesy of Boston Ballet

We have just been on our third trip to Staples for more school supplies because in this house we love the feel of a new notebook, the sound of a sharp pencil sharpener whittling a tip down, and the feel of a nice clean stack of graph paper.  Glass Pieces had a giant graph paper back drop that I loved.  It began with what felt like the entire company crossing the stage.  Colourful and fast paced at first, it felt a bit like the first week of school when you have a clean slate but then it fills up quickly with new thoughts and ideas as you begin classes.  The ensemble moving across the stage also felt a bit like what happens in between classes as people move from one room to another some interact while others just get from point a to point b.  The piece was tantric at some points with a trance like backdrop of dancers while Lia Cirio and Paulo Arrais performed a gorgeous duet that at moments transformed them into Egyptian Pharoahs (that’s what I saw anyway) and at other times they became one geometric form after another.

So there you have it.  One celebratory Bernstein piece.  One very abstract Jerome Robbins piece set to music by Philip Glass.  One very clear snapshot of old NYC in Fancy Free where Jerome Robbins’ story is set to Leonard Bernstein’s music.  One clean, beautiful playful dance with a clear theme in Interplay.  That all adds up to one great night out with Isabelle.

Genius at Play is a wonderful way to kick off the season.  I would bring everyone in my family to see it because it has such universal appeal.

ll performances of Genius at Play take place at the Boston Opera House (539 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111):


Sunday, Sept 9 at 1:30 pm
Thursday, Sept 13 at 7:30 pm
Friday, Sept 14 at 7:30 pm
Saturday, Sept 15 at 7:30 pm
Sunday, Sept 16 at 1:30 pm

Tickets start at $37. For more information, visit or call 617.695.6955.


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