Last Wednesday, George Balanchine’s Jewels offered some of the finest dancing that I’ve seen this spring from three of New York City Ballet’s principals. Sara Mearns (in “Diamonds”), Sterling Hyltin, and Teresa Reichlen (both in “Rubies”) gave memorable performances that revealed all of the nuances, musicality, and flavor that make each section of Jewels so unique.
In a 1970 review of the ballet, Clive Barnes wrote that Jewels is “like breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Tiffany’s”. True, but it is also much more. Debuting in 1967, Jewels is considered the first plotless full-length ballet, and according to repertory notes, each section is representative of a country: “Emeralds” is an evocation of France and all its elegance; “Rubies” illustrates the journey to America; and “Diamonds” portrays the royalty of Russia and the Maryinsky Theatre.
With its lush green set designs and mysterious quality, “Emeralds” could have been part of the forest scenes in Sleeping Beauty. The lead pas de deux was danced cautiously by Rachel Rutherford and Sebastien Marcovici. Marking one of her final performances with the company, Rutherford was lyrical and expressive, evoking the tranquility heard in Faure’s delicate score. In the solo, Jenifer Ringer swept gracefully across the floor with admirable calmness. Of the three jewels, “Emeralds” is the simplest and certainly the quietest – at times it even feels a bit sleepy.
After the tranquility of “Emeralds”, “Rubies” comes as a delightful, powerful shock. Distinctly neoclassical, it evokes hints of Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements (which includes a score by Stravinsky, like this piece – set to the lively Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra) and Who Cares?. Teresa Reichlen was bold, seductive, and jazzy as the soloist. Radiating confidence, she commanded the stage throughout her performance, even when surrounded by four men who held her wrists and ankles while manipulating her into various extensions. Sterling Hyltin and Gonzalo Garcia’s fiery duet pierced the space. They literally threw themselves into the playful yet aggressive choreography.
“Diamonds” appears to be a scene out of Swan Lake, and in fact, the score is Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 3 in D major, Op. 29, composed just before he wrote Swan Lake. The uniform movement and structure for the corps de ballet reflects that of a regal court scene. Yet, it was nearly impossible to watch the corps with Sara Mearns in the principal role along with Jonathan Stafford. Dazzling and majestic in her sparkling costume, Mearns’s lines are so pure and precise while her balances and backbends – there are plenty in “Diamonds” – are gorgeously lush and expansive. Infusing her performance with otherworldly calm and unpredictable suspense, Mearns also offers solid technique and strength – making her one of the company’s most distinctive dancers. Her performance here – and in most roles she takes on – was transcendent.