Music by Glass meets dance steps by Robbins -- and it's a draw
New York — As certain canapes inevitably turn up on the party circuit, so are certain composers inevitably heard in the repertories of dance companies. As with all fashion, the hot item changes yearly. One year, all the new dances feature music by Alan Hovhaness; next year, it's George Crumb, or Scott Joplin, or Alberto Ginastera.
This is the year of Philip Glass, if only because he has turned up in a new ballet by Jerome Robbins for the prestigious New York City Ballet, which performs at the State Theater through June 26. Called ''Glass Pieces,'' it is an absolute victory of complex simplicity.
It's not surprising that many ultraformalist choreographers have been charmed by the school of music Glass represents. Its total absorption with harmony and its lulling repetitions leave minimalists free to pursue their own circumscribed ideas, with no musical interference. What is surprising is that Glass should enter the one ballet company that more often sets musical fashion than follows it, and that Robbins should be attracted to the metronomic style of Glass in the first place.
Robbins's commitment to the complexities of classical ballet language would seem to render Glass and his ilk too unsophisticated. As it turns out, the encounter ends in a draw. Although ''Glass Pieces'' does not make Glass more interesting, Glass does not reduce Robbins to monosyllabic choreography. Each party comes away intact.
The main achievement of ''Glass Pieces'' is Robbins's adherence to a rich dance language (for the soloists, at least). The large ensemble is background noise, but for theatrical purpose. ''Glass Pieces'' is primarily about friction between the crowd and the individual, and between phalanxes of dancers moving - and moving fast - against each other.
In the first section, the soloists pop out of a crowd which briskly walks back and forth, in seemingly random formation. Part 2 contrasts a couple's full-dimensional duet against a line of dancers slowly threading their way along the back edge of the stage. Part 3 divides the initial crowd into precise formations, each wedge moving with the rhythmic drive of a tribal rite.
In this last part Robbins works up such heat with one idea that I wished Glass had stuck with his idea longer. That's a first, wanting Glass to be more repetitive than he is: This reaction speaks to a larger frustration, though. Just as Glass is sometimes not far enough out for Robbins, so Robbins often works at counterpurposes to Glass. The dancing style, in trying to be varied and classically based, lacks bluntness and single-mindedness.
It is a pleasure, though, to see the soloists' muted pastels set off by the ensemble's clean-colored practice clothes, and this whole galaxy of color contained in an off-white, airy box of curtains. The production is designed by Robbins himself and Ronald Bates, also in charge of lighting.