I haven't seen Jewels in many years. So I purchased a ticket for the recent performance scheduled of it at NYCB.
I'm sorry to say, the company has let standards fall for this Icon of their company. The saddest element is that the fallen state of the ballet is completely avoidable. It would only require the ballet masters, AD and others to put their egos aside and call back Jacques D'Amboise and Suzanne Farrell for coaching duties. However that is something that seems impossible at the moment. But I find it ironic that the Balanchine Trust which is so fanatic about protecting the ballet image IP and style, have allowed the founding company to lose the technique to dance this ballet.
Emeralds is in the best state of the whole ballet. There seems to be a knowledgeable coach that has trained the dancers very well. Abi Stafford, in the lead, had wonderful, expressive Undine like arms. Unfortunately, her bourrees were ungainly. I couldn't figure out if it was because of the angle I was viewing the ballet or because she was uncomfortable with the step. She seemed too concerned with how much stage she was covering. I don't know, it seemed off to me and the only drop in quality in her dancing. The dancer who truly impressed me in this section was Ashley Laracey. She was the full package here, graceful both classical and neo-classical. Her body was relaxed and unforced in the steps. I wished she was in more of the ballet. In the corps, Miriam Miller was lovely and very quickly sinuous for a tall dancer.
Dude, Where the hell is my Fosse?
In 1966, a year before Jewels premiered, Bob Fosse had his juggernaut hit Sweet Charity. It was a game changer, it influenced and still influences the dance world. It began a period that was white hot for Fosse and he then proceeded to create the film version of Sweet Charity, then Cabaret, Pippin etc. Balanchine did not choreograph in a vacuum. He had his influences and Fosse had to be one of them.
Below is a clip from Sweet Charity. Notice the tension in the bodies of the dancers. Then the use of percussive, quick releases in the dancers pelvises, chests and shoulders. Immediately the tension is then reasserted for the next step. Also note that Jazz work requires strict isolation in the hips, stomach, chest, arms, legs. That allows Jazz dancers to move as a whole but also to isolate a body part to extend musicality in dance style. The cool sexuality to it was all Fosse.
Now see the same style in Eddie Villella and Patricia McBride The hip thrusts, the muscle isolation and shoulder releases.
The original dancers just like Balanchine were contemporaries of Fosse. They knew the style they wanted to reference and it shows in this ballet. At least it does with the originals. Sadly the Jazz is missing in the current cast. The muscle isolation is non-existent which has muddied the steps. The dancers know they have to hit iconic poses, but they lack the Ballet Jazz amalgamation technique to achieve the build up to those poses.
The dancers weren't lacking in enthusiasm. I just wish the enthusiasm did more for them in this ballet section. It doesn't. Megan Fairchild has what it takes, she seems to know the kind of style that is needed. But it hasn't jelled in her body. She would get a jazz isolation but then drop it to race to the next step. She just needs a good coach. Isn't McBride allowed to coach? The other two leads were woefully miscast. Joaquin de Luz looks like Villella but he doesn't have the same temperament. He doesn't run hot and cold like Villella did. He can't switch from serious to playful. So he just stays in playful mood. Savannah Lowery, instead of turning herself into a cool jazz ballet princess, just decided to emphasize the gymnastic aspect. She also seemed too tall and ungainly for the role. This role requires a long, narrow, cat like silhouette. Her gymnastic approach was also evident in the corps as well. There just wasn't a lot of style here. Everyone was lost.
Diamonds is in the most sorrowful state. Someone, somewhere decided that Balanchine was trying to ape Swan Lake. NO, NO, NO! This ballet is not romantic even though it does have romantic elements. This section is a love letter to Imperial ballet of Balanchine's youth. The quickness, regal demeanor and purity of technique. But that isn't what is being danced by NYCB.
I specifically purchased a ticket to this performance because Sara Mearns was not performing. I saw clips of her dancing the role and she insists on pushing sentimentality. If only she would hold back, the sentimentality is already in the piece. She doesn't need to add it.
Teresa Reichlen was a bit purer, a bit more reserved. But she also added superfluous elements. Such as becoming the Swan Queen. She had overly precious bourrees that just looked out of place. Luckily she didn't start flapping her "wings" as well.
The degradation hasn't reached the Corps yet. They all danced well. But the only one with the true spirit of go-for-broke, I-don't-care-if-I-fall-flat-on-my-face was Alexa Maxwell. A close second was Ashley Hod. Olivia Boisson stood out in the corps. I wish she would catch the casting eye and get larger roles. She has such a lovely composed presence on stage.
Well, I hope NYCB can save this ballet. Because right now, it isn't Balanchine. It isn't worth the money they are charging for it. At this rate, NYCB could be any other company dancing it.
The only company that dances it in the true original style is Pacific Northwest Ballet. And you know why? They had their dancers coached by the original artists. Small wonders, hey? NYCB bring back these Balanchine dancers as coaches. YOU NEED THEM. Either that or stop performing this ballet, you don't do it justice.