New York City Ballet
“Jewels”: “Emeralds”, “Rubies”, “Diamonds”
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
April 1, 2014
by George Jackson
copyright 2014 by George Jackson
Over time, different facets of George Balanchine’s three “Jewels” ballets have caught the eye. Sometimes the sense of national character – French, American, Russian - has seemed prime. Or it has been the spirit of the musical styles – the lush yet light pre-impressionism of Faure’s compositions, the terse and tangy modern tone of Stravinsky’s capriccio, the courtly classic romance of Tschaikovsky’s sound (from his third symphony). Personalities have dominated on occasion, the individuality of the leading dancers, their temperaments and interactions – particularly those of the premiere cast forty-seven years ago this month. Paramount for me in this latest “Jewels” was the distinct sense of time in each of the three works. Time present – the action as it happens – impresses us in all three pieces, of course. In “Emeralds”, though, there is also recall. Some of the dancers seem to be remembering times past or they anticipate, they seem to listen for what will come in the future. Time present passes slowly, softly in “Emeralds” but in “Rubies” it traverses at a jaunty pace. “Rubies” is about the moment, about now. Inherent in “Diamonds” is a sense of timelessness. That catchy phrase, “diamonds are forever”, comes to mind unbidden as we watch a stately pair negotiate its union and consent to ruling a country, a ranked populace, people. Despite the patent imagery, there were problems with this performance of “Jewels” that opened NYC Ballet’s 2014 week in Washington.
Brightest in “Emeralds” was the dancing of the “secondary” soloists. Antonio Carmena and his two partners, Ashley Laracey and Erica Pereira, are introduced into the action as a filler trio, something to separate the two leading couples. However, their function becomes more major as the ballet develops. Dancing with and against the two leading men, Carmena dominates. At the end, in what might have been an apotheosis if Balanchine had given “Emeralds” a definite plot and detailed characters, the trio becomes structurally central. The first leading couple, Abi Stafford and Jared Angle, were more attuned to time present than to past mysteries or future promise. She, seeming sensible and efficient, negotiated balancing off the perpendicular with neatness. He, who used to be an elegantly subtle cavalier, has become somewhat sluggish. Cast as the other couple were plush Sara Mearns and staunch Jonathan Stafford. Mearns sometimes spoke in big, rich phrases of dance but there were passages too in which she seemed nearly silent. He, for all his stamina, is good naturedly reticent. The corps of eight women alluded aptly to images of sylphs in green glades.
There was a change of cast in “Rubies”, Gonzalo Garcia replacing Andrew Veyette as lead for this ballet’s street smarts. Perhaps that was why the four members of the lead guy’s gang – Ralph Ippolito, Austin Laurent, Troy Schumacher, Giovanni Villalobos - almost outdid him in their follow-the-leader game. This male quartet danced freely unfurled and commendably fast yet neatly and pliantly. As the lead gal, compact Megan Fairchild had an aptly sharp, chatty strength I’d not seen her deliver before. The tall Teresa Reichlen reprised her already signature role (deep squats, firm balances, league-length extensions) as the gang’s singular groupie. Shrewd were both Fairchild’s and Reichlen’s uses of a sliding scale from having fun to being determined. A corps of eight gals completes the cast of “Rubies”. The décor for this middle ballet on the “Jewels” bill was the most abstract of Peter Harvey’s new designs: linear red and black with the red looking hellfire rather than gemstone.
“Diamonds” is set beneath a palatial ceiling and against indications beyond of a blue sky with white clouds. The diamonds in the décor seem rather pearly. A principal couple and a female corps of sixteen do most of the dancing. A male corps numbering a dozen joins the cast for the finale. The pas de deux for the principals is one of the longest classical ones on record, lasting 12 minutes. Balanchine seems to have put into it all his notions of courtship – personal between a pair of lovers and diplomatic between two leaders. For many seasons, the NYC Ballet’s female corps gave the impression that its extended passages in “Diamonds” served primarily to frame the dancing of the principal couple and give them a breather. Only when the Maryinsky Ballet took the work on did I see the full beauty of Balanchine’s group choreography for the women. It is the womb, the nest in which the central pairing forms and, this time, the NYCB women had come far along the path of being a star corps. In the ballerina role, Maria Kowroski has been regal in the past. Still commanding at times, Kowroski had one very apparent slip but also seemed to be assailed by anxious moments throughout. Tyler Angle, as the principal danseur, managed the partnering with an elegance that did not betray how much he undoubtedly had to help his ballerina. His solo dancing was spacious, supple, strong. Moreover, he looked sovereign.
Music for NYC Ballet’s annual Washington visit is made in alternating years by the company’s own orchestra or by Kennedy Center’s Opera House Orchestra. This year it is the latter, playing clearly and sensitively on opening night under NYCB’s interim music director Andrews Sill. Cameron Grant was piano soloist for the Stravinsky.