New York City Ballet - 'Jewels
Two views of opening night
September 29, 2004 -- Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa, California
by Art Priromprintr
This may be because the company just came in from Tokyo a few days ago, but much of the dancing appeared tentative. None of it was bad, by any means, but save for a few standout performances, things felt subdued Wednesday night. I would normally forgive the company on opening night, but I also felt the same way when I saw them in New York this past May (at the time, I chalked it up to constantly performing a 7 show schedule for weeks on end). The steps in NY all seemed to be there, but warmth only seemed to come in bursts from a few soloists, or from a few select pieces.
"Emeralds": Jennifer Ringer was mesmerizing in "Emeralds" – she was the second soloist for the solo variations, and the second pas de deux with James Fayette (I can’t seem to get the “role” distinctions correct in my head at the moment). Very musical, seemed to melt into the music and let it take her for a ride. Looking back on the entire evening, I would say Ringer’s two solos were the most memorable portions of the evening - moments when I was completely taken into the performance and got a swell of happiness as the solo ended.
Rachel Rutherford was the other principal and she was fine though noticeably jerky in some parts. Ashley Bouder, Megan Fairchild and Arch Higgins danced the pas de trois; Bouder tore into the role in her usual fearless style, but that kind of attack doesn't quite work in "Emeralds." Too harsh and speedy, the quality that I so liked of hers when I saw her in New York seemed to work against her here. Perhaps she’ll need to calm down into the role as she grows. "Emeralds" as a whole has really grown on me. When the Kirov was here last year, it was the only movement of the evening that I just wanted to get through to see the rest of the ballet; but Wednesday, it was my favorite part of the entire evening.
"Rubies": Wednesday night, my eye was drawn straight to Teresa Reichlin. dancing the tall-girl role and being great fun to watch. As the curtain rose, she established herself as the person to watch in this ballet – this despite the fact that she technically isn’t the lead in "Rubies." Amazingly flexible, also played it coy and sexy. The lead couple was Alexandra Ansanelli and Damien Woetzel, who performed admirably. However, some of the fun, jazzy elements appeared “put on” for the two of them – it was like they’d concentrate real hard to get some of the steps right, then suddenly go “Oh yes! This part can be fun and I can swivel my hips a bit and wink!” But then they’d fall back into trying to get through the steps – it was inconsistent.
Perhaps, though, anyone I see in the central roles in "Rubies" will forever more be compared to Diana Vishneva’s absolutely searing performance with the Kirov Ballet last year – Vishneva just had IT with that role: there was fire, there was sexiness, there was flirtation. It was stunning to say the least, and so that likely made it hard for Ansanelli to stack up in my mind. Also, on opening night, the performance lacked a bit of spark because of the orchestra's subdued and somewhat clumsy playing. It seemed they were conciously trying to keep it slow for the dancers while the dancers looked like they were holding back to stay with the orchestra.
"Diamonds": Performed crisply and cleanly by the company as a whole, but there wasn’t much excitement to the whole affair. There was nothing to complain about, but nothing to write home about either – just a clean performance. Wendy Whelan and Nilas Martins were the lead couple. Again, with the pair, nice and clean execution of the pas de deux, with Whelan showing remarkable control and Martins partnering steadily and surely.
Now, about those new sets: I loved the "Rubies" set, with those geometric, bright red lines coming down the sides and back of the stage, and a burst of lines up at the top. It was just perfect for this ballet, especially when the curtain rises on all those girls lined up on point – the juxtaposition of the bright, straight white lines of everyone’s tights against the red lines was one hell of a stunner. The only thing I found strange was the glowing-red asteroid type object painted into the upper part of the backdrop. I know it’s supposed to be a kind of imppresionist ruby, but it looks like a glowing space object – those of you from Southern California will get this reference -- it looked like the giant planet from the Space Mountain ride at Disneyland. Otherwise, though, I liked the "Rubies" set very much.
The "Emeralds" set worked fine -- uinobtrusive and atmospheric enough to give that ballet the hazy, seductive feeling it needed. "Diamondsm" on the other hand, I did not like at all. It looked cartoonish, in a Christmas-card, winter wonderland kind of way. I suppose you could say it is designed to be reminiscent of a Russian winter palace – but still, the way the set was painted and set up, it looks like a giant cartoon, not elegant or grand at all.
Looking forward now to tomorrow night, with "Serenade," "Stravinsky Violin Concerto," and "Stars and Stripes."
by Jeff Kuo
New York City Ballet began its southern California appearance at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa last night. Visits in recent years from Brits, St. Petersburgians, Moscovites, Italians, Germans, San Franciscans, Manhattanites, etc have made it no trick to be a connoisseur of "Swan Lake," "Giselle," "Cinderella," "Romeo and Juliet," etc. But courtesy Miami City Ballet, the Kirov, and now the grand old New York City Ballet, by the end of the week, Southern California audiences will be in the curious position of being experts on a full evening plotless ballet, the splendid "Jewels" choreographed by Balanchine.
Beginning with "Emeralds" is, I think, something of a special challenge on a weekday. The music's and the dance's delicacy, with its hints of courtly romance submerged just below the surface of its stately choreography, has much to overcome getting into the audience's consciousness still reverberating from contact with the late industrial world of the 21st century. Tonite’s performance, beautiful as always, seemed somehow smaller in scope and ambition than the ballet’s choreography. The performance seemed to be reticent as if unwilling to submerge itself into its antique world of romance and noblesse. The pas de trois for Ashley Bouder, Arch Higgins, and Megan Fairchild stood out for its breathy exuberance. Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette's interpretation for the Nocturne (the "walking" pas de deux) was also noteworthy. Rachel Rutherford and Robert Tewsley danced the other principal couple.
After the intermission, "Rubies" was something of a relief. Alexandra Ansanelli and Damian Woetzel danced "Rubies" as game – sometimes fun, sometimes sportive, and ... mmmm ... occasionally sexy. Ansanelli, particularly, often looked less like a ballerina than a merry prankster. Woetzel seemed more or less to coast for the ride. Perhaps the most interesting performance was Teresa Reichlen's "Rubies" soloist. It was as if the "Rubies" principal and the "Rubies" soloist had swapped personalities. Tall, thin as a slip, slippery, and blonde, Reichlen's soloist was less the saucy daughter of the regiment of other versions and more like some icey, man eating über-mädchen (when do we get to see her as the Siren?) . If Ansanelli's performance wanted to make us smile, Reichlen's Rubies soloist made us want to smirk.
Wendy Whelan and Nilas Martins danced the principal duet in the final movement, “Diamonds.” Whelan only gets better over time. Her "Diamonds" ballerina is richer and fuller than when I saw her dance the same role in 1998. Martins seemed too restrained and often unexciting. The corps looked strong though occasionally less secure in their placement as if they needed to rehearse a little more on the Segerstrom Hall stage.
If you haven't been to New York City for this past repertory season, you might find that the new design takes a little getting used to. For this revival, "Emeralds" now has a very green, jungle-like backdrop with vaguely ornamental shapes hanging like vines and moss. "Rubies" has vertical red stripes setting off the wings and a red drawing suggestive of a planet or moon or maybe just a large rock near the top of the set. "Diamonds" has a cool blue color suggesting an ice cave or grotto. I'm not sure I prefer these to the older, simpler sets I remember from NYCB's 1998 season, or to the palatial curtains that San Francisco Ballet's production featured, but everybody will have to decide the success of the new design for themselves.
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