Review of the Cincinnati perfromances of Balanchine's Jewels given by the combined Cincinnati Ballet and BalletMet companies, October 10-12, 2003
In Benjamin Britten’s opera, Death In Venice, von Aschenbach describes Venice as a magical city where “water is married to stone,” and himself, “As one who strives to create beauty, to liberate from the marble mass of language the slender forms of an art.” In a poetic leap, one understands Aschenbach’s image of “water married to stone” as a metaphor for the flow and fixity of time. Granting this metaphor, the precious stones, Emeralds, Rubies, and Diamonds that name the three acts of Balanchine’s Jewels foreground the fixity of time, its monumentality. In this sense, Jewels is Balanchine’s liberation from the marble mass of time the slender forms of an art.
Whether as in Emeralds, time is softly shaped by elegant pas de deux, solos or frozen in the sculptural poses of the corps, or yet as in Rubies, sharply quickened by the briery angles of arms and wrists, kicking legs, or lines of dancers the choreography’s rendering of time brought out the measure, pattern, and instrumental color of the music. Balanchine’s marriage of sight with sound, for example, revealed the structural importance of the woodwinds, which in either solo or ensemble capacity announced and/or accompanied important moments through out all of Jewels. Examples from Emeralds, music by Faure, include the oboe solo on the first appearance of the main couple, the flute solo that accompanies the second female soloist, the woodwind ensemble that accompanies the second section of her dance, and the oboe solo for the male’s variation in the trio and the coda of the reassembled trio. In Rubies, however, the piano appropriately dominates. Set to Stravinsky’s Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra, woodwinds nevertheless accompany sections of the pas de deux and often deliver the sonic grotesquery that makes the Stravinsky sound the way a Goya Capriccio looks. Yet, Capriccio’s citations from Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella,” (a theme that features woodwinds doubled with strings) confirm the humor behind the choreography and that cheer rather than lust inspires the red of Rubies. Diamonds, set to movements two through five of Tchaikovsky’s Third Symphony, begins with woodwinds. Woodwinds in the third movement, including French horn, accompany the pas de deux and the cavalier’s variation. And in the fourth movement, keen woodwind figures mix with the four lady’s airy pas de chats to etch in the vivid air the contours of the string’s windswept motion. In a sense, Jewels is a concert of gestures scored for woodwinds, dancers, piano, and orchestra.
As a ‘concert of gestures,’ too, the ideas of harmony and reference implied by this picture of Jewels tempers, one hopes, the rather forbidding description of the work as an ‘abstract,’ meaning without reference and distant, ballet. In a punning mood, however, one observes that Jewels is an abstract, a synopsis of the Age of Giselle for Emeralds, the Age of Jazz for Rubies, and the Age of Petipa for Diamonds. The three movements of Jewels, then, offer a bounty of dance references. Further, Jewels engaged rather than distanced audiences as the four performances in Cincinnati brought forth four standing ovations. Additionally, the successful production of Jewels in Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, followed from the blended efforts of the Cincinnati Ballet and BalletMet companies. Combined to meet the cast requirements of forty plus dancers for the finale of Diamonds, the composite company more than doubled the aesthetic pleasures of Jewels.
Often described as a ballet that floats, the rich harmonies, melodic invention, unhurried tempos, and clear orchestral colors of Faure’s music met the grace and restraint of the movement for Emeralds. Together sight and sound recovered the flavor of ballet’s past and evoked the fluidity of this loving memory’s endless sentence. And certainly the playing of oboist, Lorraine Dorsey, flutist, Evelien Wooland, and violinist Kiki Bussell encouraged the audience to share the poignancy of this memory.
In the hands of pianist Ron J. Matson, however, the flash and heat of Stravinsky’s score for Rubies evaporates the wistfulness of Emeralds in an instant. Hammered notes ring into infinity while others so rapidly struck vanish or turn to steam. Cooler notes condense and then run in torrents, filling the pit, and threatening the lives of the strings. Brass and percussion cheer the piano. And gnomish woodwinds heckle all. Steps, simple and complex, arms, torso, and hips in fact the whole body nevertheless manages to tame this flood of beats into articulate and familiar shapes. And, the evening performances given by principal couple Hiromi Ushino and Derek Sakakura of BalletMet and Cincinnati Ballet soloist Mishic Marie Corn and the matinee performances given by Cincinnati Ballet’s Janessa Touchet and Zack Grubbs and BelletMet soloist Olivia Clark delivered the high octane dancing compelled by the music.
In contrast, Diamonds turns away from the headlong rush, the siren song of Rubies eternal present and towards the grace and elegance of an ideal world. Diamonds as precious stones are regal in symbol, enduring in truth, and hint, thereby, of a world ruled by divinity. A divinity manifest in Diamonds the ballet by woodwinds figures that sparkle even in the shadows of the moonlit winter landscape imagined in Tchaikovsky’s music. And in the Diamonds pas de deux, the independence and power of Cincinnati Ballet’s Kristi Capps, one sees the resistance of divinity to compromise. She, lovingly partnered by Dmitri Trubchanov also of CB, nevertheless, refuses explanation by either philosophy or social convention. In illuminating contrast, however, BalletMet’s Carrie West masks divine inscrutability with a softness that models her relationship to Daryl Brandwood also of BalletMet after that of Athena and Ulysses. Further, the glory of the Diamonds pas worked because bassoonist, Marcia Blalck, and French horn player, Gregory Phillips, played. And in the final moments of Diamonds, the unison movement of forty plus dancers realized, in spite of the fever, the burning imperfections of mortals the precision of La Bayadere’s pale shades.
<small>[ 21 October 2003, 01:28 PM: Message edited by: S. E. Arnold ]</small>