Everyone knows the Broadway side of Jerome Robbins’ choreography — “West Side Story,” “The Music Man,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” to name a few. But he was also a lifetime friend of George Balanchine, choreographed for Balanchine’s New York City Ballet and beginning in the 1970s turned most of his creative dance energy toward ballet.
“Jerome Robbins loved to work with the dancers of the New York City Ballet because they moved a little differently from all the other companies, because they were Balanchine dancers,” said Melissa Lowe, professor of dance with the University of Arizona School of Dance.
Lowe is the rehearsal director for Robbins’ “Antique Epigraphs,” centerpiece for the school’s “Color Wheel” concert opening Wednesday, Feb. 24, in the Stevie Eller Dance Theatre on campus. The piece is set to music by Claude Debussy.
“This is a sophisticated work of high distinction,” said Lowe. “Usually the rights to perform it are only given to professional companies. But because of our years working with the Balanchine Trust to perform his dances, I decided to throw my hat in the very large ring of the Robbins Rights Trust and just ask them.
“I was blown away when they offered me a choice of seven Jerome Robbins pieces we could present. I studied them all,” Lowe continued. “But this one I kept coming back to. It is such a little gem.”
The 20-minute “Antique Epigraphs” is set on eight women and divided into six separate pieces with different moods, using various combinations of dancers.
“The choreography is dense, thick, layered, evocative of the Greek statues and friezes found on vases and tableau, that come to life,” said Lowe. “But the piece is also delicate, the way a string of pearls is delicate. Within the dance he creates moments of stillness that are so captivating.”
The story is that Robbins was touring museums in Italy when, in Naples, he somehow found himself surrounded by many statues of gorgeous Greek men and women. He was especially taken by the stillness of the statues and the lifelike quality of their eyes.
“He wrote, ‘It felt like I was walking into the middle of a ritual’, ” said Lowe.
Anna Kisselgoff, reporting in the New York Times on the February 1984 premiere performed by the New York City Ballet, said “‘Antique Epigraphs’ is a thing of beauty ... and it is certain to be a joy for many a season.”
Also on the UA School of Dance program are several pieces in ballet, modern, jazz and tap dance styles choreographed by UA dance faculty.
In “Rockin’ Chair,” Sam Watson has imagined a rocking chair and a young couple discovering new love, set to a guitar score by Eric Bibb.
James Clouser creates a jazz ballet using “Exit Music for a Film” recorded by the Brad Mehldau Trio at New York’s Village Vanguard.
Michael Williams combines a hat, a glove, a chair and a cane with the jazz trumpet of Wynton Marsalis in “ITZaJAZZthing!” and rapid tap dancing in “Cats in Hats.”