Review: New York City Ballet at The Kennedy Center

This production of George Balanchine’s Jewels runs through Sunday, June 9.

By: Jun. 06, 2024
Review: New York City Ballet at The Kennedy Center
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The company’s annual performances at the Kennedy Center are a highlight for dance in DC, with live music by the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra and richly-costumed dancers performing outstanding choreography, This year is the company’s 75th anniversary, but City Ballet looks as fresh as ever, with new talent, pairings and perspectives on view. While the choreographic programming remains rather traditional (don’t get me wrong - the company is right to continue featuring the Balanchine and Robbins works on which it is built), the artistic team is pushing boundaries from the inside out, starting with the dancers and verve they bring to their work onstage. 

Jewels, Balanchine’s 1967 devotional to three beloved composers, Gabriel Fauré, Igor Stravinsky and Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky, is a plotless ballet in three sections. Allegedly inspired by a trip to famed jewelers Van Cleef and Arpels, each section is named for a different jewel - emeralds, rubies and diamonds. 

Emeralds, set to incidental music from two Fauré compositions, shows off Balanchine’s facility with classical partnering and ensemble choreography. The most interesting divertissements are given to the second couple, danced here by Emilie Gerrity and Alec Knight, and trio. Gerrity's daring off-balance developées and turns in her waltz solo were stunning; even romanticism can be surprising. Indiana Woodward in the lead role also thrilled, bringing flirtiness and gaiety to her port de bras and gaze throughout, which imbued her poise with extra dimension. Soloist KJ Takahashi’s stage presence was also captivating. I look forward to watching this danseur nobel continue to mature in coming seasons. 

At times the pacing seemed to drag, as the corps struggled in moments to fully articulate the steps with the necessary crispness, but the finale was outstanding. Each plié was grounded and created a compelling contrast with its paired arabesque en relevé or other elevated step. Watching this section one sees what, for a typical choreographer, would be an impressive range. But Balanchine was anything but typical. 

If Emeralds demonstrates the range of a ballet’s structure, Rubies, the second section, builds on Stravinsky’s jazzy score to showcase the range of the steps themselves. Here Balanchine takes often-simple ballet steps and inverts or distorts them, combining second position with flexed feet, pirouettes with turned-in passés, and turn out with parallel. It’s playful and inventive. 

In this section Mira Nadon danced the brightest, her long legs seemingly made for kicks to the side. The contrast between her languorous extension and lightning-fast turns is impressive; this rich dynamic range is at the heart of the work and elevates it beyond being simply fun to watch. 

Diamonds, the last section, is the epitome of classicism. The regal pas de deux for Sara Mearns and Chun Wei Chan is shrouded in mystery; she seems to be heeding a call from offstage to leave or at least torment her lover. Yet when she returned to his arms, the force and speed of her dive took my breath away. One must truly trust a partner to abandon control so completely. These contradictions and mysteries lift the work above other great classical ballet showcases. Yes, the men perform double tours en l’air. Yes, there are fouetté turns. Yes, the couples demur, embrace, and genuflect. Balanchine knows the form. 

What makes it a masterpiece is the ambiguity he includes in the relationships onstage. Real couples do not adore one another all the time, and he allows us to see these realities and complexities. This is just life and yet, for the dance gods and goddess onstage, we can see ourselves in their confusion, even if only for a moment. 

Run time: Approximately 125 minutes, including two intermissions. Onstage through Sunday, June 9.

Photo credit: Baily Jones, KJ Takahashi, and Alexa Maxwell in “Emeralds” from George Balanchine’s Jewels. Photo by Erin Baiano.


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