New York City Ballet Review: Jewels
September 22, 2018 | David H. Koch Theater – New York, NY, USA
I first saw New York City Ballet’s production of Balanchine’s Jewels while a student at the School of American Ballet. I must admit that at the time I did not have such a refined ear for music nor the understanding of just how incredible the choreography is, but I do remember being enamored with the brilliance of the costumes and impressed with the concept of the piece.
Decades later I can see that what has been recognized as “the first three-act story-less ballet” will continue to be an awe-inspiring classic for generations to come.
The curtain opens to reveal a stunning verdant portrait of dancers framed by luxurious drapes, shimmering like dewdrops under an early-morning sun.
Tiler Peck and Taylor Stanley mark the center of the stage and from the very first movement Peck makes, it is clear that it will be difficult for my eyes to be drawn away from her.
She possesses an elegant strength, a capacity to radiate energy through the very ends of her fingertips, and a musicality so impeccable that the line between the dance and Gabriel Fauré’s score is unclear – she is one with the music. She is especially radiant in the solo made so famous by Violette Verdy. Stanley, too, is lovely to watch in his solo, although it seems that he is still in the process of really making the role his own (his debut was a mere few days ago).
Unity Phelan also made her debut in Emeralds this season. I look forward to seeing her perform this role more in the future. She has a beautiful quality about her that is sometimes interrupted by downcast eyes; it is as if she is yet to become aware of just how much she can shine.
Balanchine is a master of creating not only aesthetic formations but of choreography that enables the dancers to (seemingly) effortlessly move from one part of the stage to another.
There is a magic to witnessing a field of green romantic tutus sweeping, swirling, and settling, especially when the corps de ballet is completely in sync. This they were, but unfortunately the same praise cannot be given in respect to the cleanliness of their lines. At moments I wondered if perhaps they were under-rehearsed.
In contrast to the sweet, sometimes lullaby-esque sounds of Emeralds, the music of Igor Stravinsky can be a bit jarring. We hear a short prelude before seeing the crimson V of male and female dancers stemming from a steadfast soloist upstage center.
All are adorned with short “skirts” which are probably more accurately described as several wide strips of fabric, and the scenery is simply vertical red lines of random length and placement.
The dancers are fierce and fiery in their stillness, and a curious mix of quirk and sass when they move. Balanchine challenges the audience to appreciate the off-kilter not only with sunken hips and contorted lines but with trying to reconcile Stravinksy’s notes with the movement.
This matinee’s cast featured Sterling Hyltin, Andrew Veyette, and Claire Kretzschmar as the pas deux and soloist, respectively. The couple tends toward cute in their interpretation and Kretzschmar a bit harsh.
Kretzschmar is another one to watch as she rises to the heights of the opportunities she is being given; she is a bit unconfident technically but consistent in her presentation of character. Later in the program we see her dancing solidly and cleanly in Diamonds and it makes me question again the amount of rehearsal time granted in polishing the piece.
The audience’s gasp was audible upon viewing a frosted white and blue scene adorned with hanging sparkling snowflakes and speckled with even sparklier white tutus. Instantly, there is an aire of grandeur that envelops the theatre as Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky’s music fills the space with its swells and pauses.
On stage it’s as if Karinska’s costumes and Mark Stanley’s lights are having a playful conversation, with each sparkle of crystal creating a dance in and of itself. And just when it seems impossible to be any more glamorous, Sara Mearns steps onto the stage.
Mearns is regal, clearly in command of her own being and leading by example those around her. Her indulgent port de bras and courage in pushing the music to the limit are the cherries on top of her technical prowess.
The partnership between her and Joseph Gordon is new and although unequivocally well-executed, there seems to be a lack of chemistry. Hopefully this will develop more over time as Gordon is a strong cavalier both as a partner and a soloist dancer.
In the final movement, it is a joy to see the thirty-four member cast dance together. Although ubiquitous in classical ballet, it is still so exciting and gratifying to see an expertly-performed entrance en diagonal to a polonaise.
There is a relentless vibrant energy that reminds the audience just how talented the company is. And there is a hope that this cohesiveness will carry them through what will be viewed as a rough patch in the company’s history.
Featured Photo for New York City Ballet Review: Jewels Stands the Test of Time of New York City Ballet in George Balanchine’s Jewels © Paul Kolnik
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