I?m just back in San Francisco, and a bit harried. Aside from reviewing a show tonight, I?m on tap to help lead a preview of Jerome Robbins? ballet ?Dybbuk? at Grace Cathedral Sunday afternoon. San Francisco Ballet is reviving it next week and here?s the tricky part: It hasn?t been performed in its original form since 1975.
In the Chronicle today, Allan Ulrich gives as succinct and informative an overview as one can ask for:
?”At this point, I’ve got a dead body I’m not sure about. How do we get him off the stage? The man who originally performed it is, unfortunately, no longer with us.”
Problems, problems. May that persistent stiff be the least of Elyse Borne’s this week. Along with New York City Ballet’s Jean-Pierre Frohlich, she has been handed the Herculean task of reconstructing for the San Francisco Ballet Jerome Robbins’ 1974 “Dybbuk,” unseen anywhere in its original form for almost three decades. Is it worth the effort? Is this a lost masterpiece? Well, we do know that “Dybbuk” obsessed its thin-skinned choreographer for years following the premiere. Reacting to criticism, Robbins withdrew the first version of the work after two seasons and pared it down, then restored some passages, and renamed it “Dybbuk Variations.” Finally, he reduced it drastically to a series of men’s routines he retitled “A Suite of Dances.” . . .
. . . In fact, the saga of Robbins’ “Dybbuk” began in the mid-1950s. The choreographer conceived the work even earlier and secured a commitment for an original score from Bernstein, who had been a friend and collaborator since their huge 1944 hit, “Fancy Free.” But both NYC Ballet’s general director Lincoln Kirstein and its ballet master George Balanchine remained cool to the idea of a mystical Jewish tragedy at a time when neoclassic abstraction preoccupied the company. In addition, the music was slow in coming as Bernstein pursued his conducting career. Not until 1972 did the pair resume work on “Dybbuk,” this time with Kirstein’s approval. Robbins rejected an invitation to revive the ballet in 1986. He, reportedly, laid the blame on the composer, whose 50-minute score for large orchestra and tenor and bass- baritone soloists was deemed too grandiose for this intimate story. Robbins’ biographer Deborah Jowitt believes that the “Dybbuk” project inflamed long- festering resentments between the two artists.?
I?ll be drawing heavily on the Jowitt biography, of course, and I highly recommend it. I also attended a rehearsal last Friday and watched Nicolas Blanc and Vanessa Zahorian in the leads. But what ?Dybbuk? will look like on that Opera House stage next Tuesday?and how it will be received by a contemporary audience?is anyone?s guess. Ah, the suspense!