(photograph of George Balanchine and his Jewels, date unknown)
After a six-month break, I returned to the NY State Theater on Saturday night for my first performance of New York City Ballet’s winter season. Before I gush about Balanchine’s Jewels, I should mention that NYCB’s new black and white theme in the lobby looks beautiful. I love the large photograph over the ticket windows, and took a few minutes to watch the videos (thanks for recommending that, Philip!). Before the ballet started, I was reflecting on the fact that I have now attended NYCB for nearly two decades. Of course, before the age of seven, I tended to fall asleep for the last third of the program. But I’m still amazed at how I never grow tired of NYCB. I love seeing old repertory favorites, the creativity of new choreographers, and the overall evolution of the company.
The ample program notes for Jewels, which premiered in 1967 and is considered the first plotless full-length ballet, explained that each section is representative of a country: Emeralds is an evocation of France and all its elegance; Rubies illustrates coming to America; and Diamonds portrays the royalty of Russia and the Maryinsky Theatre.
I definitely saw elements of each country in the pieces, as well as aspects of various ballets. Emeralds could have been part of the forest scenes in Sleeping Beauty, with its lush green and mysterious quality. The lead pas de deux was danced beautifully by Ashley Bouder and Stephen Hanna. Bouder was lyrical, expressive, and very emotional – at times she looked like she was about to cry. She continues to prove to audiences that she can do anything. I’m used to seeing her in the explosive, firecrackers roles, but she looked just as comfortable and beautiful in the gentler Emeralds. I absolutely love the Fauré music for Sara Mearns’ solo (and have heard it many times for adagio combinations in class), but I would have liked to see Mearns finish every movement. She seemed to cut everything a tiny bit short rather than following through and keeping it fully polished.
Rubies is the most neoclassical of the three sections, with a bit of Broadway flash thrown in, too. It looks like a combination of Who Cares?, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, and Agon. Teresa Reichlen was sassy, jazzy, and flirtatious as the soloist. She looked cool and confident. I loved when the four men held her by her wrists and ankles and manipulated her into various extensions. She towered over all of them! Megan Fairchild and Benjamin Millepied managed to keep up with the music, but they needed to dance with more attack. The push and pull, yes-no quality of the choreography is fabulous; the dancers really need to throw themselves into it.
I was nearly blinded by Maria Kowroski’s sparkling tutu and headpiece in Diamonds. Both she and her costume were absolutely dazzling. Her extensions never cease to amaze me, and she always looks so calm and collected. In fact, these are key qualities for Diamonds, the most royal and majestic of the three sections. When the large corps de ballet entered, the piece felt like a court scene from Swan Lake, but the choreography proved to be more interesting, both for the corps and the principals. The intricate partnering for Kowroski and Charles Askegard kept the audience ooh-ing and ahh-ing.
The updated sets were beautiful (especially the lush green backdrop for Emeralds – just gorgeous!), although I thought the gems hanging from the ceiling were unnecessary and looked a little silly. The scenery didn’t fully mesh with the classic Karinska costumes, but I’m sure (and certainly hope) the costumes will never be replaced. They fit perfectly with the music and Balanchine’s choreography for each section.
*Note: The title of this post is from a 1970 review by Clive Barnes, who said that Jewels is “like breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Tiffany’s.”