The latest in an impressive series of triumphs for public TV's "Dance in America" series is the snaring of choreographer Jerome Robbins, who has long played the reluctant dragon with respect to the video medium.
In an hour-long installment entitled "Two Duets," to be aired tonight on Channel 26 at 8, Robbins not only permits one of his fine recent ballets to be encapsulated within the small screen -- a thing he so long shied away from -- but also participates in an on-camera interview and is seen as well in candid rehearsal shots with Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov, preparing for the taping of his "Other Dances."
Paired with the Robbins piece, in what seems a rather artificial but nonetheless effective contrast, is "Calcium Light Night," the first choreographic effort (in 1977) by dancer Peter Martins, brilliant principal of the New York City Ballet. Heather Watts, of the same company and Ib Anderson, rising star of the Royal Danish Ballet, soon to debut with the NYCB, are the dancers in Martins' engagingly intricate opus.
In the interview with dance critic Tobi Tobias, Robbins is at once characteristically prim, flinty and enthusiastic. Asked how he feels about the new TV audience for dance, he has reservations: He praises the exposure TV affords, but says he hopes viewers will realize what they're seeing "is not the real thing." The talk is shrewdly intercut with disarmingly offhand rehearsal footage -- Baryshnikov rubbing his nose in the middle of a phrase, for example, and humming a bar or so of Chopin to cue in the pianist.
It's fascinating, too, to see Robbins insisting on exact measurement of steps in as casual-seeming a sequence as the opening of "other Dances," in which the couple appears to saunter idly onto the stage before slipping quetly into the formalities of dancing. The performance by Baryshnikov and Makarova is exquisite, especially in the first two solo sections -- on impetuous and cyclonic, the other pliant with yearning.
Martins, in his interview, speaks of how finding his first movement phrase was "murder," of his preoccupation with balletic structure, of the mental split between being a dancer and a maker of dances.
"Calcium Light Night," set to eight brief pieces by Charles Ives, is a mosaic of pithy abstractions, spare, droll and absorbingly kinky. Wats and Andersen, a wiry duo of limitless flexibility, make the most of its choreographic eccentricties. Except for a few hasty-looking passages of fragmented perspective, the camera work is excellent throughout.