Be still my heart. The New York City Ballet is back at the Kennedy Center, and best of all, dancing Jewels, George Balanchine’s full-length classic created in 1967. Last evening’s presentation at The Kennedy Center proved once again while the master may be dead, his masterpieces still shine.
NYCB is the most sophisticated dance company in the world and the genius behind the dancers is Balanchine. His ballets are unique; he prefers pure movement to dance-mime gestures that are common in story ballets. His choice of music always compliments the dancers in what has become his trademark of “musical visualization.”
Now under the direction of Peter Martins, Ballet Master-In-Chief, NYCB performs two programs of at the Center’s Opera House now through Sunday afternoon. Jewels will be danced with different casts over the weekend – Tiler Peck is slated for the Friday and Saturday evening shows but more about this hot ballet star later. Choreography from the 21st century is the theme of the second program, danced Wednesday and Thursday evenings.
Nonetheless this too-short engagement is all about Jewels, a ballet that has nothing to do with the sparkling gems (emeralds, rubies and diamonds), but a salute to Mr. B’s devotion to his ballerinas, to classical music, and, especially to the Broadway dancing he choreographed during his long reign as director.
My first introduction to Jewels took place in the summer of ’67 at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Yes, the New York City Ballet was in residence at this outdoor venue for two seasons back when The New City was in its early beginnings. Balanchine oversaw the building of the stage (which still remains the best sightline for dance in the USA). But what he hadn’t planned on was the rain.
“That summer it rained so hard that the workers had to lay down tarp so we could walk in our toe shoes from the trailers to the stage,” recalls Suki Schorer, one of the dancers and keeper-of-the-torch when it comes to ballet history. As it turned out, Jewels was danced only to a solitary piano as the orchestra pit was flooded.
Last night, the entire Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra provided live music for Jewels.
Conductor Andrews Sill and pianist Cameron Grant kept pace with the brisk dancing, especially in Rubies, the tribute to the chorine (whom Balanchine so loved). The scenery by Peter Harvey is sublime; lighting by Mark Stanley equally sensitive to the dancers. Costumes reflected the original design of Karinska, a gem in her own right.
Balanchine has been called the “greatest strip artist,” as seen in Jewels when he takes away superfluous movements and leaves us with pure dance. Sure there is the stunning backdrops for all three sections of the ballet. In Emeralds, we are introduced to a deep green forest that reminds us of Balanchine’s romantic side. Rubies is danced to Stavinsky’s Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra, one of the many collaborations by these two Russian virtuosos. In Diamonds, we see the true Vaganova ballet technique that was so much a part of Balanchine’s heritage.
Standouts in the opening program of Jewels include NYCB Principals, Abi Stafford and Jared Angle together; Sara Mearns, who can do just about any thing asked of this stunning ballerina; Megan Fairchild, Maria Kowroski and Tiler Angle. This same cast performs in the Saturday matinee. Kudos, too, to our local dancers who are now full-fledged company members, Teresa Reichlen, who shined in Rubies, Ralph Ippolito, and Dana Jacobson, a beauty, indeed.The New York City Ballet performs Jewels Friday through Sunday, April 4th through the 6th at The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC.
Running time: Two and a half hours, including two intermissions.
Program B, featuring the choreography of Justin Peck, Tiler Peck, Alexei Ratmansky, and Christopher Wheeldon. More information here. Purchase tickets online, or call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or (800) 444-1324.