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National Ballet of Canada - 'Jewels'

The jewel of the master's eye

by Michael Goldbarth

May 2003 -- The Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto

Of all the glittering jewels gracing the stage for Thursday’s afternoon delight, one sparkled more than any emerald, ruby, or even diamond could ever hope to sparkle. Call me another (happy) victim of ballerina magnetism but this precious gem has the glowing face and beaming body of which National Ballet of Canada dreams are made on! Mere prose cannot do justice to the delicious images she created on stage. This is one ballerina who knows how to shine and isn’t afraid to face the music and dance: Every step was imbued with spontaneity; every moment on stage was danced as if it was her last; every eye in the house was glued to her as the come-hither ruby in “Jewels.” She held nothing back.

These goo-goo eyes were glued from seat A28. Sneaking a close up glance with opera glasses is one of my few guilty pleasures. What my mind’s eye saw was a ballerina putting it all together: theatrical persona, dance technique, plus musicality. Triple wow!!! This ruby absolutely glowed surrendering body and spirit to the choreography of Mr. B as she danced the music of Stravinsky to life! The jewel of my eye was Heather Ogden.

Unlike “Tristan and Isolde,” “Jewels” lives up to the National Ballet of Canada’s cheeky tagline, “Come to the Ballet!” Those fortunate enough to be retired, playing hooky from work or school were treated to undulating hips, dizzying pirouettes, bedroom eyes glancing skywards, sassy high kicks, flirtatious skipping with imaginary rope, and jazzy moves galore.

Of course, my opinion alone is not proof enough. I was not the only (willing) casualty of Miss Ogden’s ballerina magnetism. The Thursday matinee was filled with high school kids who had bussed in for “Jewels,” many of whom never heard of ballet dinosaurs like George Balanchine or Igor Stravinsky. Many of who possess the attention span of Bart Simpson. Many of whom came to see a ballet for the very first time in their lives. Somehow those green imaginations, never to be stretched beyond a TV screen, were set free through the stage charisma of Heather Ogden as the new Muse for Balanchine. As further evidence of the above, many in attendance were so moved by Heather Ogden’s performance they not only clapped and cheered ‘bravo’ with double espresso - they actually whistled! Something not heard often enough at the Hummingbird Centre, also referred to as God’s Waiting Room due to the advancing age of the Company’s audience! By the way, many of the aforementioned historic ballet fans were likewise stirred to show their appreciation.

There have been many gorgeous muses in George Balanchine’s life: Tamara Geva, Alexandra Danilova, Vera Zorina, Maria Tallchief, and Tanaquil LeClercq. And then there was the elusive muse, Suzanne Farrell, who is listed in the Performance Program as overseeing the production of “Jewels.” Thank you Suzanne Farrell for keeping the genius of George Balanchine (Artistic Director for the National Ballet of Heaven) alive through a new muse … in his afterlife.

This purely abstract 3-act ballet premiered April 13, 1967; yet 5 decades later it still possesses the dance power to turn the Bart Simpson generation on to ballet! Another muse of musical note was a stunning redhead by the name of Julie Hay who danced the music of Gabriel Fauré to life in “Emeralds.” Yet one more emerald who caught my eye was Rebekah Rimsay. As close to the stage as I was, not once could I hear her pointe shoes thump through a long stroll en pointe. Rimsay must share her silent dancing secrets with her fellow emeralds for future performances. Perhaps she bashed her pointe shoes against the brick wall of the Walter Carsen Centre to soften them up?

The lastjJewel to top Balanchine’s masterpiece was “Diamonds” danced beautifully and most seriously by Jennifer Fournier as guest artist in residence for the Company.  Fournier, a former principal of the National, was fortunate enough to dance for the Suzanne Farrell Dance Company after taking time off to have a baby. Though  Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 3 calls for cool classicism, this reviewer thought Fournier was a little too cool. A little smile and carefree spirit wouldn’t rub any shine off that diamond.

If you’re looking for a romantic escape to Paris (“Emeralds”), New York (“Rubies”), and St. Petersburg (“Diamonds”), trip the light fantastic to the Hummingbird Centre for “Jewels”! Your orbs will be treated to new costumes and, unlike the over-hyped Tristan and Isolde, Jewels actually gives you a reason to ‘Come to the Ballet!’ “Jewels” might even inspire you enough to come twice!!

Edited by Staff.

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