Jerome Robbins's new ballet, seen for the first time in its final version at the New York State theater on Thursday night is a work of such amplitude and grandeur that it can make you fall in love with the human body all over again. What a piece of work is man! And with what ballets does Mr. Robbins celebrate that workmanship!
I was in the audience with my parents for the Sunday matinee following the Thursday night premiere. It was May, 1971. We sat in the 5th ring, where the seats were $1.00 and arranged in a single row along the railing (in which, during a previous attendance, I had carved my initials with a hairpin). My father insisted that watching ballet from that vantage point was ideal; you took in the entire stage and sometimes, depending upon how many dancers took the floor at once and the variations in their costumes and movements, you could imagine you were looking into a kaleidescope with its magical changing patterns.
The other day the local classical music station played the Goldberg Variations and I finally learned the story behind Bach's composition, comprising 30 variations on a theme. According to the program host, legend has it that Count Kaiserling, the Russian ambassador to the Saxon court, commissioned Bach to compose the piece, to be performed by Kaiserling's musician-in-service, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg. Kaiserling, it seems, was frequently troubled with insomnia, and requested Bach to write some reposeful keyboards pieces which Goldberg could perform as a soporific.
It pleased me to hear this anecdote. Though I was in the audience for a historic performance, and though the original cast of the Goldberg Variations included some of the most celebrated dancers of all time -- Sara Leland, Gelsey Kirkland, John Clifford, Patricia McBride, Helgi Tomason, Karen Von Aroldingen, Peter Martins, Anthony Blum, Merrill Ashley-- I missed the show. As soon as the curtain lifted and the pianist struck the first cords, I placed my head on the railing and fell asleep, only to awaken, 90 minutes later, in time for the record seventeen curtain calls.