Unraveling Jerome Robbins’s ‘Interplay’

With Interplay/Jerome Robbins Week winding down over at the Ballet San Jose Facebook page, I sat down to write this blog post with only a vague idea in mind. I had spoken to Ballet San Jose Artistic Consultant Wes Chapman a couple of weeks ago about Interplay. Armed with a few insightful quotes from Wes and a vague, surface-level idea of the life and times of Jerome Robbins, I put my fingers to the keyboard and wondered if this blog post would be at all interesting to fans of Ballet San Jose.

After all, Interplay holds a different weight and importance for our company than Graduation Ball does (see: recent blog posts by BSJS Ballet Mistress Dalia Rawson and Ballet San Jose Principal Ballet Master Raymond Rodriguez). Interplay is a company premiere, not a revival. Whereas a few of our dancers and staff have experienced Graduation Ball once before, everyone has had to approach Interplay with totally fresh eyes. I write from the point of view of the Marketing staff — a couple of floors away from the dancers — but I can at least imagine how simultaneously paralyzing and exciting that might be for any artist.

Sometimes it is helpful to take a look at the history of a new piece. I can think of no better candidate for this blog post than Interplay, especially given Jerome Robbins’s fame and the overwhelming popularity of West Side Story even now, over 50 years after its initial film release to a mainstream audience in 1961.

Robbins initially choreographed Interplay for Billy Rose’s Concert Varieties, and the piece premiered June 1, 1945, at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York. The American Ballet Theatre premiere took place at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York on October 17, 1945, while the New York City Ballet premiere came 7 years later on December 23, 1952. Like all of Jerome Robbins’s works, Interplay is very distinctly New York…and also distinctly American. (The piece is set to composer Morton Gould’s “American Concertette.”)

For the reasons mentioned above, it’s little wonder that Interplay is considered by many in the ballet world to be an American masterpiece. Without Interplay, it is doubtful that Robbins would have brought us the 1957 Broadway production of West Side Story we know and love. And West Side Story itself is at once a celebration of America’s virtues and its problems.

When I asked Wes Chapman to contribute some introductory information, he told me that “Robbins’s most famous choreography, West Side Story, displays elements and common themes from Interplay. You might think of Interplay as a precursor to West Side Story.” Wes explained that if you looked at the pieces side by side, you’d see pretty clearly the development of Robbins’s choreography over time. The elements that are now familiar to most of us as the Sharks-vs.-Jets rivalry from West Side Story, which first premiered on Broadway in 1957, can be easily traced back to Fancy Free (1944) and Interplay (1945), ballets that Robbins had choreographed over a decade earlier.

Wes is certainly excited to have the opportunity to stage Interplay for Program 1 of Ballet San Jose’s 2012 Season (March 2-4, 2012). Since he first saw the piece performed by the Boston Ballet years ago, Wes said he has had an ongoing relationship with Interplay. As Artistic Director of ABT II, now American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company, he brought Interplay into the ABT II repertory.

Wes emphasized that Interplay is a “good representation of Robbins’s work. It’s a show that the audience always seems to enjoy very much. It’s set on a playground, so the costumes are fun as well — the girls wear ponytails and lots of bright colors. It’s a very youthful piece.”

As contemporary ballets go, Interplay is said to be one of the best. As a representation of American youth in 1940s New York, Interplay is more than a ballet — it’s a slice of history. Today, the work remains in the American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet repertories. And now, because of our recent partnership with ABT, Ballet San Jose has the chance to put its own spin on a Jerome Robbins classic.

Erica, Social Media Coordinator

Sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interplay_(ballet)
http://www.abt.org/education/archive/ballets/interplay.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerome_Robbins

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