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San Francisco Ballet - 'Jewels'

by Jeff Kuo

April 5, 2003 evening -- War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

“Emeralds”

Observers often describe the dreamy, “underwater” quality of “Emeralds” movement. In the “Prelude” Yuan Yuan Tan shows us why. Her movements are so pure, so silky smooth, it seems unreal. The effect is mesmerizing but perhaps not quite right. Should the Emeralds ballerina always be an empress? In the “Fileuse andantino” her turns seem particularly silent and smooth. Katita Waldo in “Sicilienne” is probably the most satisfying of the “Sicilienne” ballerinas because she opts for simplicity in her port d’bras. No acting, no Parisiennes in her boudoir, just a dancer dancing Balanchine in the andante mode (to borrow a phrase from Arlene Croce).

The grand "Emeralds" pas de deux seems a little akilter. Tan’s razor edge glamour seems too sharp -- its almost as if the Diamonds ballerina was impersonating the Emeralds ballerina. The “Nocturne” is for Katita Waldo and Stephen Legate—no sleepwalkers, just beautiful, peaceful movement. The “Entr’act” pas de trois for Nicole Starbuck, Pascal Molat, and Vanessa Zahorian is right on the money and the hands holding looks elegant.

I’ve often wondered why Balanchine added the coda “La Mort de Melisande” some time after the ballet’s original premiere. As canny a stage craftsman as Balanchine would know that the audience would mistake the “Allegro vivo” finale for the real finish and start applauding. The coda with its hints of mortality and finality would come as a rebuke. Perhaps he’s reminding us that at its deepest level ballet is ultimately a tragic universe.

“Rubies”

Lorena Feijoo and Yuri Possokov, who lucky audiences saw in the afternoon dancing the leads in "Emeralds," now take on "Rubies." Her technique not as crystalline nor pristine as Kristin Long’s, but Feijoo is more than a fair substitute. She and Possokhov play up its sensual aspects. But, Possokhov makes a poor imitation of a street urchin running around Brooklyn rooftops and alleys (we always see Villela here) -- Possokhov is more like Peter the Great slumming with Danish sailors. Who's trying to kid whom? Muriel Maffre is unforgettable as the Rubies soloist. Tall, big movement and charismatic presence, Maffre almost steals the show. She certainly dominates the corps who seem to be filled with the company's more petite dancers.

“Diamonds”

The great "Diamonds" pas de deux is for Julie Diana and Vadim Solomakha: if at the matinee, Tan was an empress of ice and crystal, Diana is the prima ballerina assoluta. Diana's and Solomakha's performance consciously chooses to evoke the Petipa and Tschaikovsky of the Imperial Russian Theaters. I can see the tribute to "Swan Lake" in the partnered turns and the confident acceptance of support.

Whereas Tan showed a ballerina who seemed as if she could glide and turn on the power of her own ballet magic, Julie Diana accepts homage from Solomakha, who partners her with subtlety but perhaps too much self effacement, particularly at the moment of the final kiss of the ballerina's hand when he is almost positioned behind her.

How many generations must it take for us to see whatever Balanchine saw in that gesture? Suzanne Farrell saw fit to use the"Diamonds" pas de deux to defend Balanchine from feminists—an apologia of sorts for putting the ballerina on a pedestal. Has the post-modern world gotten back to the acceptability of paying homage to a woman for being a ballerina? I can't say...

I've watched Julie Diana's career with interest a few years back since its upward trajectory coincided with my developing passion for the ballet. Of course I was pleased to see that she was promoted to principal after the 2000 season, yet I still thought of her a really great soloist who was getting really good principal roles: this performance finally made me believe in her as a principal … an artist ...

Can’t resist one last jewelry quotation:

The diamond is beyond contradiction the most beautiful creation in the hands of God in the order of inanimate things. This precious stone, as durable as the sun, and far more accessible than that, shines with the same fire, ties all its rays and colors in a single facet and lavishes its charms, by day and night, in every clime, at all seasons. -- Marquise De Montespan, mistress of Louis XIV, in her Memoirs.

She might have been talking about “Jewels” the ballet.

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