So often mistakes are the most memorable part of live performance.
The portion set to Chopin’s Waltz in E Minor, above, has earned the nickname The Mistake Waltz. It’s an anthology of screw ups that will be familiar to anyone who’s attended a few amateur ballet productions and school recitals.
When the entire ensemble is meant to be traveling in the same direction or synchronizing swanlike gestures, the one who’s egregiously out of step is a guaranteed standout… if not the audience’s flat out favorite.
Robbins generously spreads the clowning between all six members of the corps, getting extra mileage from the telegraphed irritation in every indiscreetly attempted correction.
Performed well, the silliness seems almost improvisational, but as with all of this legendary choreographer’s work, the spontaneous beats are very, very specific.
It only works if the dancers have the technical prowess and the comic chops to pull it off. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo aside, this can present a sizable casting challenge.
Robbins also felt that The Concert should be presented sparingly, to keep the jokes from becoming stale.
Individual companies have some agency over their costumes, but other than that, it is executed just as it was in its 1956 debut with the New York City Ballet.
Former NYCB lead dancer Peter Boal, who was 10 when he played Cupid in Robbins’ Mother Goose, has made The Concert part of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s repertoire. He revealed another side of the exacting Robbins in a personal essay in Dance Magazine:
He had the unique ability to become kid-like in the studio, giggling with others and often laughing robustly at his own jokes. He was certainly his own best audience for The Concert. How many times had he seen those gags and yet fresh, spontaneous laughter erupted from him as if it was a first telling.
Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Join her Necromancers of the Public Domain: The Periodical Cicada, a free virtual variety show honoring the 17-Year Cicadas of Brood X. Follow her @AyunHalliday.