BWW Review: New York City Ballet Presents JEWELS, September 21, 2019
Jewels has opened the season!
Accordingly, many people are talking, whispering about the production.
How was it overall?
So let's start at the very beginning.
I think I've seen Jewels at least 200 times in my life. Notwithstanding all the performances-excellent, good, mediocre, or just beyond mention, the ballet always yields rewards in its seemingly abundant outpouring of music and dance. We all know Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky from so many Balanchine ballets. Who would have thought of Gabriel Fauré?
It's a good thing George Balanchine did. And how wonderful that the ballet is still with us, over 50 years after its creation. For all lovers of dance, it has become infused in our psyches. We can even act out (or should I say dance out?) individual sections. The fun part of the evening was during intermission when so many people were dancing or showing others little fragments of what they had just seen. It brings a smile to my face.
The Jewels triptych, Emeralds, Rubies, and Diamonds was Balanchine's first three-act plotless ballet. When it first appeared in 1967, it did socko business. People flocked to it. Everyone had a different opinion. Which ballet was better? Was one cast better than the other?
I don't think that Balanchine cared very much.
Balanchine always said that he got the idea of Jewels after visiting Van Cleef and Arpels. That still sounds wonderful. But is the ballet about jewels? Not really; it's about dancing, its articulation in form and sound. I sometimes think Balanchine would have made a great mathematician. When you watch his ballets, it's almost like seeing an algorithm coming to life on stage, yet it's not static, but big and bold.
The curtain rises on Emeralds, a sea of green, and I mean green! I believe this is the original Peter Harvey décor that was brought back to the company a few years ago. Then there are emeralds (not real, I presume) strung around the stage. And the costumes. For some reason that never entered my mind, this time it seemed tacky. Is anyone thinking of changing it?
The seven dancers who encompass this world are not representative of gems, but of soft rapport with partners. Hushed silences and a yearning to connect, knowing all the time that fate has another card to deal for them. Was this the world of the French stage in the 19th century? Outwardly yes, inwardly-probably not. They were too busy displaying good manners.
Ashley Bouder and Taylor Stanley danced the first pas de deux securely and with a great depth of feeling that I rarely see in Bouder. She seemed radiant and was in close contact, both in steps and arms, with Taylor Stanley, who was not pushed out of her private world but lovingly allowed to enter this other realm of Balanchine's imagination.
Megan LeCrone and Adrian Danchig-Waring danced the second, justly famous "walking" pas de deux, and here's where I have to tip my hat to Ms. LeCrone. In the past, she has always exhibited a solid technique, yet a downcast demeanor. Here her face was lifted, even if she still looked lost in thought, which, to me, added layers of meaning to her interpretation. The complexity I have found in her dancing before, somewhat aloof and forbidding, added luster to this portrayal. I sat up and took notice. While Adrian Danchig-Waring was an able partner, I started wondering if LeCrone and Stanley could ever be partners. With their different heights, it wouldn't be possible, yet noticing them near each other on stage, I thought that this was a couple with not only the convergence of dancing skills but of the minds. I think they would be superb as the central couple in Balanchine's Davidsbündlertänze. I can see Stanley parting from LeCrone in the finale as she puts her face into her hands and cries. I know it will never happen, but it's a thought.
Kristen Segin, Sarah Villwock and Roman Mejia danced the pas de trois with great bounce. Like everyone else, I'm wondering just when management will promote him? To be blunt, he is a star presence.
Then comes the ending. The seven principals gather, there is a chill and shiver in the wind, the women leave, and the men fall to one knee. A cavalier without his partner, alone and in conflict with himself. What was Balanchine saying?
We'll never know.
Rubies is Balanchine in an ebullient, athletic mood; highly explosive and on fire. If this mood is not captured, Rubies seems like just another generic Stravinsky ballet-not of Balanchine, but there are many out there now. There was a slight obstacle: the pairing of Megan Fairchild and Gonzalo Garcia. He seems too staid, and she does not seem to fit into the overall scheme. I've seen her many times before in this role, yet she has never managed to capture my imagination. She lacks the pizzazz needed, and Garcia, an excellent dancer, does not have the speed for the role. Look at Edward Villella and Patricia McBride do it on Youtube. You'll see the difference.
Finally, Diamonds-and Sara Mearns, the one and only and anything you can do, I can do better. She's that good, she's that monumental. It's usual in classical ballet for Mearns to sometimes overpower her partner with sheer chutzpah, but Russell Janzen rose to the occasion and let her have her way without fading into the background as some forgotten cipher. He was the cavalier, and she the queen (or is she supposed to be a princess?). He let her shine brilliantly, yet he was not part of the scenery.
Balanchine set this ballet to four movements of Tchaikovsky's Symphony no. 3 in D major, not one of his superior symphonies. If I am correct, most people only know the symphony from the ballet. It is long and repetitive and can, at times, test one's patience. Balanchine fills in the holes well, with the extended pas de deux for Mearns and Janzen and the closing polonaise, which has a bad habit of never closing. Still, if you're ever looking for a slam-bang finish, this is it.
One of the great things about New York City Ballet lately is the orchestra, now under the direction of Andrew Litton. Since he's taken over, I have not had to listen to a dropped sound, missing notes or the call of off-key trumpets.
City Ballet is presenting its annual fashion gala night, where star couturiers work with choreographers to present new works in specially designed costumes. But isn't New York City Ballet famous for choreography? We can all enjoy innovative costume designs, but whoever came to Balanchine's house to focus on them?
We shall see.
Photo of Sara Mearns in "Diamonds" by Paul Kolnik,