“JEWELS” AT THE SMITH CENTER A DAZZLING EVENT

 

By Hal de Becker

 

It really was an exciting occasion. Three separate ballets choreographed by George Balanchine, melded into a single work entitled Jewels, were performed for the first time ever by three different dance companies at the Smith Center’s 2000 seat Dorothy Reynolds Hall.

 

Before the curtain rose there was a palpable charge of heightened anticipation pervading the near capacity audience.This was due in part to NBT’s expansive and informative public relations campaign and the breathtaking effect of the venue itself.The 66 dancers in their lustrous costumes of ruby red, brilliant white and emerald green, and the 53 piece orchestra and piano soloist, soon satisfied expectations.

 

Among the many talented dancers were three rare and exceptional jewels: Carla Korbes from Washington’s Pacific Northwest Ballet in Diamonds; Mary Lacroix of Nevada Ballet Theatre in Rubies; Christiana Bennett with Utah’s Ballet West in Emeralds.

 

Diamonds, choreographed to the final three movements of Tchaikovsky’s 3rd Symphony, may have been intended as a tribute to the 19th century ballets of Marius Petipa but it is more grandiose and bravura than that master might have dared present in Czarist Russia.

 

From the moment Carla Korbes made her first entrance in Diamonds the stage belonged to her.She outshone the radiant chandelier above her and even in the finale with 33 other dancers crowding the scene her regal presence, musicality and feminine charm was dominant.

 

By using her sensitive musicality to sustain and extend her body lines to the absolute end of the last note of every musical phrase, and sometimes a fraction beyond, she was able to create the impression of an unbroken flow of beautiful movement.

 

Ms. Korbes’ was partnered by Karel Cruz but they were not visually well matched.His greater height and extreme slenderness conflicted with her smaller more customary balletic proportions.His solo dancing was at best bland.

 

Even though some members the corps de ballet appeared to be very young they danced with maturity and skill and an almost contagious exhilaration.However, some of the diamond-shaped choreographic patterns were blurred, seemingly by spatial considerations.Usually, 34 is not an excessive number of dancers for a major venue’s stage to accommodate.

 

Balanchine’s choreography for Rubies with its thrusting hips, turned in knees and angular body lines looked as innovative today as when it premiered in 1967. And the music, Stravinsky‘s Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra, with its unique rhythms, dissonances and syncopation sounded as ‘new’ in 2012 as it must have when composed in 1929. Rubies is an immensely entertaining work that is never likely to become ‘dated’.

 

Ms. Lacroix -- like Ms. Korbes in Diamonds -- made Rubies her own.As well as mastering its challenging and eccentric choreographic style she projected the ballet’s childlike fun and playful wit.The interplay between her and her partner, Grigori Arakelyan, frequently suggested a contest which of course, with her seductive flirtatiousness, she always won.

 

Except for Ms. La Croix, the dancing was not on a par with NBT’s prior performances of Rubies. In this instance, unlike in Diamonds, the reason may have been too much, not too little space.With only 15 dancers to fill the stage they appeared to have been spaced wider apart than usual which reduced the impact of their cumulative energy.

 

The ladies gave a pleasing performance but the men, many ill-matched in size and shape, showed a weak grasp of the ballet’s style. Nevertheless, the choreography was so appealing it overcame any shortcomings in the dancing.

 

The all too white, all too bright lighting for Rubies produced a glacialatmosphere inappropriate for such a warm gem.What was appropriate and appreciated was apowerful performance by the orchestra, under the baton of Emil de Cou, and the pianistic brilliance of soloist Christiana Siemens.

 

The music for Emeralds is mostly from Faure’s Pelleas and Melisande Suite. It was originally composed as incidental music for a 19th century performance of the Maeterlinck drama in which Melisande dies in childbirth and Pelleas is murdered by her jealous husband who also happens to be his brother. The music is not particularly cheerful despite its subdued beauty.

 

The ballet isn’t generally thought of as one of Balanchine’s masterworks.Much of the choreography is vigorous and accented which at times reduces the often slow, somber score to background music rather than accompaniment.

 

Like its two sister-ballets, Emeralds has no story. But it has an undercurrent of romantic longing that can be awakened by an expressive ballerina. Just such a one was Christiana Bennett.

 

The lightness of her dancing, the softness of her lyrical arm movements and her personal warmth and graciousness helped create a pleasant dreamlike atmosphere.Her half-smile and distant gaze implied a secret to which only she possessed the key. With these subtle interpretative elements, she added substance and color to a work that can at times be lackluster.

 

Aside from Beau Pearson, Ms. Bennett’s stiff and inexpressive partner, the troupe delivered an impressive performance from the opening tableau that drew ooohs and ahs, to the final pose.

 

At the program’s conclusion the dancers from the three ballets gathered on stage to receive a spontaneous standing ovation.The ballets had been staged for them by Eylse Borne and Sandra Jennings of the George Balanchine Trust both of whom deserve much of the credit for the production’s success.

 

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