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Review: Robbins' humor shines in opening piece of 'PBT Premieres'

| Sunday, March 8, 2015, 9:16 p.m.
Amanda Cochrane and company dancers
Rich Sofranko
Amanda Cochrane and company dancers

No enchanted forests, life-size dolls that dance or magic potions were to be seen at the Benedum Center, Downtown, on March 6. Instead “PBT Premieres” was an evening of dance for modern sensibilities.

“The Concert” by Jerome Robbins was a perfect start to the evening. Robbins, famous in both ballet and musical theater, must have had a blast creating “The Concert,” which he called “A Charade in One Act.”

It opens with a pianist coming onstage to give a concert of music by Frederic Chopin. Ballet pianist Yoland Collin set the comic tone, showing stage skills usually untapped when he's playing in the studio or, less frequently, in the orchestra pit.

The audience for the concert enters in dribs and drabs, giving Robbins the opportunity to characterize the individuals. A serious listener puts her chair right in front of two chatty young women, then turns with a fierce glare to silence them.

Alejandro Diaz was superb as a husband whose athletic flirting with other women turns into a big number, only to be shut down by the entrance of Elysa Hotchkiss in an imposingly concentrated portrayal of his domineering wife.

Robbins' sense of humor in “The Concert” is applied to dance, too. In the corps de ballet, there is one dancer who is always the odd woman out. She may go up when everyone else is going down, and is frequently out of position for the final pose of a number, only to slink to where she belongs while everyone else is motionless.

Amanda Cochrane was terrific as an exuberant and showy person, who at one point attaches herself to the piano. In another bit, she tries on hats and, after finding one to her taste, dances with pride and joy until another dancer crosses her path wearing the same hat.

Robbins took inspiration from the nicknames of some of Chopin's pieces. His witty take on the “Raindrop” Prelude features all the dancers carrying umbrellas to start, gradually reducing to a single umbrella.

The “Butterfly Etude” provided the basis for the charade's finale. After the dancers cavort in butterfly costumes, the pianist has had enough, stops playing and chases them with a butterfly net.

Collin played beautifully throughout. The dancing also was well supported by the ballet orchestra led by its music director, Charles Barker.

After a 20-minute intermission, the company performed “Petite Mort” by the brilliant Czech choreographer Jiri Kylian. The title is a French euphemism for orgasm.

“Petite Mort” was written for the Salzburg Festival in Austria on the 200th anniversary of the death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Collin, Barker and the orchestra provided excellent performances of the slow movements of Mozart's Piano Concertos Nos. 23 and 21.

Kylian's choreography is mesmerizing in its continuous invention and sense of purpose, which is marvelously but not slavishly in tune with the sublime music. The props are fencing foils for the men and seemingly armored dresses for the women, both of which serve initial characterizations. The partnering is erotic but not romantic.

The final piece felt misplaced in the program. “Sandpaper Ballet” by Mark Morris is akin to the divertissements one finds in 19th-century ballets but with a contemporary nonchalance. It was well performed by 25 dancers wearing green and sky blue costumes by Isaac Mizrahi. The ballet is set to pleasingly lightweight orchestral music by Leroy Anderson.

But after the Robbins and the Kylian, “Sandpaper Ballet” was much too lightweight, even fluffy.

Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or

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