New York City Ballet
“Jewels”: “Emeralds”, “Rubies”, “Diamonds”
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
April 4, 2014
by Ashley McKean
copyright ©2014 by Ashley McKean
What a difference casting can make. While Tuesday’s opening night cast for George Balanchine’s “Jewels” maneuvered the nuances of the choreography adeptly, Friday night’s cast breathed life into Balanchine’s famous words, “See the music, hear the dance.” This was largely due to the fact that Sara Mearns, Sterling Hyltin and Tiler Peck were cast on the same evening, each representing a different jewel—“Diamonds” for Mearns to music by Tchaikovsky, “Rubies” for Hyltin to music by Stravinsky, and “Emeralds” for Peck to music by Fauré. How remarkable that the New York City Ballet currently has three principal ballerinas, each at similar points in their careers, whose greatest strengths are an instinctive ability to interpret and illuminate the music. Seeing these dancers perform the three distinct styles of “Jewels” illustrated not only their similarities but also the different ways they approach musicality; while Mearns creates expansive phrases, Hyltin draws attention to musical accents, and Peck plays with timing to reflect mood.
Mearns’ extraordinary gifts come across in a role that makes full use of them. While her lush quality of movement was apparent in “Emeralds” on Tuesday, in “Diamonds” on Friday she was transcendent; Tchaikovsky seems to be where she is truly in her element. From her first momentous steps onto the stage in the pas de deux—the focal point of “Diamonds”—the audience could visualize the intensity of the haunting third movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 3 in D major. Although the pas de deux was flawlessly danced by Mearns and her cavalier, Ask la Cour, Mearns seemed to take her inspiration as much from the music as from la Cour, who was a skillful partner but at times appeared to lack an intimate connection with the journey between them. Still, her unique ability to build a continuous musical phrase through movement allowed her to fill up each note and the spaces in between, whether through the stretch of a port de bras, the expansion of an arabesque, or through pure, enlivened stillness.
“Diamonds”, which closed “Jewels”, began with a luscious waltz for a corps de ballet of twelve women and two soloists in sparkling white tutus, and finished with a grand finale—a polonaise for the entire cast—with the corps moving through various formations that recalled the brilliant facets of the gemstone. Mearns’ exquisite phrasing was equally apparent in her technically demanding solo passages, where it seemed as if she manipulated the turns and jumps with super-human control over timing. Throughout the ballet, la Cour danced with aplomb, even if his energy and presence did not always match Mearns, who drew the audience in as if we were participating in her journey.
In contrast to Mearns’ expansive phrasing was Hyltin’s visualization of the musical accents in Stravinsky’s Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra that accompanied “Rubies”. Hyltin has a delicate physique, but she moves stunningly fast, going from complete stillness to explosive speed and then back again, at times resembling a racehorse, with the control to stop on a dime. If the connection between Mearns and la Cour in “Diamonds” seemed attenuated, Hyltin’s connection with her partner, Gonzalo Garcia, was electric, and their pas de deux looked like a master class in Balanchine technique and style.
“Rubies” was completed by a corps of eight women and four men who were totally in sync, crisply portraying the jazziness and angularity of the choreography, the women displaying Karinska’s gorgeous ruby-red tunics with gemstone accents. Savannah Lowery delivered a committed performance as the solo girl, although she lacked the speed and command of Teresa Reichlen’s performance on Tuesday. But “Rubies” belonged to Hyltin, whose dancing was saucy, witty, and fierce. She fully embodied the choreography and the Stravinsky score, and she looked like she had a fantastic time doing it.
The romantic and lyrical “Emeralds”, which opened “Jewels”, can sometimes be forgotten by the time the curtain goes down after the fiery “Rubies” and the grand “Diamonds”. This was not the case on Friday due to the sublime performance of the entire cast, but Tiler Peck’s breathtaking performance made “Emeralds” particularly memorable. Peck and Jared Angle (who replaced Amar Ramasar) danced the first pas de deux as if it were one single breath, their bodies singing the serene melodies of the Prélude from Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande. They were accompanied on the stage by a youthful corps of ten women (almost all of whom were apprentices or first year corps members), forming a backdrop of green tulle.
Peck is often cast in virtuoso roles, and while I would not describe her role in “Emeralds” as virtuoso, her technique sparkled. But her ability to play with the music and timing to create mood was almost more impressive than her technique. Her solo was playful, gleeful and fleet-footed, always right on the edge of the music but never going beyond it. I especially noticed the way she used her hands and arms to sculpt space, creating gorgeous imagery. The rest of the cast danced well, and Anthony Huxley was particularly eye-catching in the pas de trois for his easy jump and appealing style.
Soloists Ashley Laracey and Lauren King also deserve special mention for their performances in the “Emeralds” pas de trois as well as their soloist roles in “Diamonds” (they alternated these roles on Tuesday and Friday). These dancers move with similar expansive musicality and a luxurious quality of movement. Their performances left me hoping to see both of them dance principal roles in the near future.
copyright ©2014 by Ashley McKean