BWW Dance Review: New York City Ballet presents Balanchine's JEWELS
It's the opening of New York City Ballet's 2018 fall season on September 18, 2018, not only a night for ballet goers, but the night ushering in Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement-the time when the Jewish population fasts and asks God to forgive their sins. So what am I doing at the ballet? I feel guilty. I should be somewhere else and not at the David H. Koch Theater.
But I'm here. And here the New York City Ballet is, trying its best (although I can't claim I know insider information) to keep the British stiff upper lip, or whatever it is you do in the United States when your place of employment seems to be on the brink of moral collapse. The house lights dim, a voice comes over the loud speaker welcoming us to the performance, Balanchine's Jewels. The audience responds to the invisible voice with loud cheers. And I feel relieved.
I was hoping they would do that, considering all the negative publicity the company had been receiving for almost a year. If you don't know about all this-and I imagine you do since you're reading this-go Google it. I don't want to get into ballet politics right now, the company's future, Balanchine's relationships with his female dancers, Peter Martins.
The whole kit and caboodle.
Then the curtain rose on Emeralds, the first act of this triptych abstract ballet based on the theme of gemstones, even if you notice after a while that the only jewel-like leitmotif is the costumes and the scenery.
A feeling of welcome pervades in the theater. Not a sound. An almost imperceptible "welcome back."
I was very happy.
Emeralds has, to me, always been the heartbeat of the ballet. Set to music of Gabriel Fauré, it is at once grand and melodious, yet subdued and distant. A dichotomy, I know. Try to harmonize them. Difficult, yet doable. There is a light chill in the air, but listen to the music. It can sway you that all is not what it seems on stage. True, it's a world of reserve, decorum rules, yet these are still individuals with secrets to relay. Somewhat icy, but also warm, which was exactly what was missing from the performances of the two leading ballerinas, Abi Stafford and Ashley Laracey. Both very good dancers, they rendered the steps without the pulse; they were off in some world that never connected to the audience. Even sparks that fly at a low flame must meet somewhere. I sometimes think that most Balanchine ballets are about encounters, involvements and departures. That's my take.
The ballerinas were ably supported by Ask La Cour and Jared Angle, while Erica Pereira, Spartak Hoxha and Indiana Woodward danced the pas de trois with ease, if not great sparkle. As is usually the case with Emeralds, I am always left with a feeling of what I call "existential loneliness" at the end. It's something hard to describe, as if I were at once in the auditorium but hovering over it, alone and questioning. Did Balanchine envision this? We all know he is famous for not imparting any story line for most of his works, yet that last image, when the ballerinas have left the stage and the men sink to one knee is almost beyond poetic description. Regret? Love lost? I'm still trying to figure that out.
After the poetry of Emeralds comes the red color blast of Rubies, set to Stravinsky's "Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra". The curtain rises on a very tall ballerina, the sensational Emily Kikta, surrounded by her coterie of men and women. She is indomitable, by sheer size alone she rules, especially when she invites the men to manipulate her body in many different directions. Is this all about Balanchine and women, his manipulation and power to dominate, even if the women are really doing the overpowering work? I don't know, since no one said anything to me.
Ashley Bouder and Joaquin De Luz were the main couple, and their dynamic strutting, their over the top and over kill execution of steps, were met with loud applause. This is almost a pas de deux of wills, an anything you can do test of physical strength that is as much a test for the audience as the dancers, since they must be still in their seats while the dancers compete in an almost head on collision of stamina. In the end, it's a draw, they both win. And how could they not?
And finally Diamonds, all in white, music courtesy of Tschaikovsky, And since this is the closing ballet, it's going to be a real stunner.
While Balanchine evokes the spirit of St. Petersburg and Petipa, did the dancers of the mid 1800s actually have this kind of technique? Of course not, which makes the ballet a bit comical, as we are watching the old world through a prism of the technically superior (in all ways) new world. Maybe it's Diamonds for the millennials. They did not have the grandparents and great grandparents that so many of us had. If they are to connect, it's got to be with a 21st century mentality, one that has to see all the dots and connections. Maybe Diamonds is the best ballet around to connect the glory of the old days with the tempests of the new.
Maria Kowrowski, one of my all-time favorite dancers in the company, has not been in Diamonds for a while. She still has strength, nobility, her line is still clear, yet there was effort in her performance. Perhaps it was not a wise decision to return to this role at this point in her career. When you notice the effort and are acutely aware of it, it's time to let go.
Tyler Angle was, as always, an extraordinary partner. Is there a better one right now? He knows how to present his partner in the best light-she shines, but so does he. He is on display as much as she. The corps was in top form. And let me not forget the orchestra, led with grace, fluidity, and power by Andrew Litton.
A good way to start the season.
Photo © Paul Kolnik: