Jerome Robbins' Roles for Ballerinas

May 6, 2012

The New York City Ballet has opened its spring season and we’ll be seeing plenty of Balanchine. But I’m looking forward to the all-Robbins program tomorrow night. Jerome Robbins made ballets about relationships, ballets that can really move you. There’s a scene in his In the Night that gets me every time. At the end of the last pas de deux, the guy goes down on his knees like he’s begging for forgiveness. Then the woman sort of blesses him, then she gets down on her knee, as though she wants to serve him. Finally, he picks her up and lifts her overhead and carries her out. It is such a stirring picture of selflessness of an intimate relationship.

In The Cage, he gives the Novice a supremely contradictory role. As a vulnerable young member of a predactory insect species, she’s learning. But she’s learning to be murderous. The Novice gets to be strange and angular. Wendy Whelan, who’s performing it tomorrow night, said in these pages (March 2003), “I could use my weird assets. Jerry let me go with that ballet.” The combination of ferocity and tenderness must be an incredible challenge for a dancer. (The part was originated by Nora Kaye in 1953, and later danced by Tanaquil LeClercq, Heather Watts, and many others.)

The Cage
is a shocking ballet, but one of my favorite parts happens post-shock. After the Novice kills the male she once loved, she kneels quietly and turns her head calmly to the audience. She could be saying, “I did what I was trained to do and I have no regrets.” Or, she could be saying, “I did what I was trained to do, but was it the right thing?” —Wendy Perron