Friday, May 30, 2014

What's the Inspiration for Jewels?

Abi Stafford and Jared Angle. Photo: Paul Kolnik
The official story about the inspiration for Jewels (1967) is that Balanchine visited Van Cleef and Arpels, saw the pseudonymous rocks (emeralds, rubies, diamonds), and started creating. (He apparently eschewed pearls and sapphires.) The glittering costumes, by Karinska, and somewhat cheesy sets by Peter Harvey, support the basic concept without hinting at any narrative. It is mostly about individual ballerinas, and a certain pro forma, female/male romanticism in the genre, and group patterning. 

Despite the assertive title, it's this very plotlessness that lends itself to perpetual guessing games about the true symbolism of Jewels. Here are a few theories.

Nationalities. "Emeralds'" music is by Fauré, ergo, France; "Rubies" is by Stravinsky, with whom Balanchine had one of mankind's most fruitful relationships in New York, so, America; and "Diamonds" is by Tchaikovsky = Russia.
Sara Mearns and Ask La Cour. Photo: Paul Kolnik

Soups. Spring greens, borscht, vichysoisse.

Seasons. Spring, summer, winter.

Ages of humankind. Youth, middle age, old age.

Musical and artistic styles. Impressionism, modernism, romanticism.

May 24th's New York City Ballet matinee yielded some suitably glittering performances. It has become such a reliable joy to watch Sara Mearns dance, here with Ask La Cour in "Diamonds," in what is a golden era for the company's women. Her amplitude, emotional generosity, technical ability, pliancy, projection, and conviction all elevate her above your typical excellent NYCB performance. At the close of the pair's big duet segment, she stopped, front and center before the final pose, her mouth forming a small "O" as if surprised or delighted. It was an unexpected detail, the kind which only burnishes Mearns' reputation as a ballerina for the ages. 

Ashley Bouder led "Rubies" with Gonzalo Garcia and Savannah Lowery. It was a revelation to see Bouder in the role. There is no arguing that her technique and speed are unparalleled within the company's women, but often when I watch her, her hyper precision and the way she's nearly ahead of the beat can come off as jittery hubris. Her expression can also read as too eager to please, the A student who knows all the answers. In "Rubies," she seemed to have cast aside the self-consciousness and coyness to sink deeply into the playful movement at hand. She also exuded an aura more diva-like than the charm school ingenue. Garcia, whose subtle charisma can fade in the big Koch theater, here invested his performance with more energy and focus than usual. Of course, the attack-filled role helped with that. Lowery is a natural for the Amazon role, her curvy legs always an intriguing picture, her grand jetes monumental, her Broadway ambitions percolating beneath the surface.

It was the last time I would see the Stafford siblings dance in proximity—Jonathan is retiring as of Sunday. Abi performed "Emeralds" with an old world elegance I hadn't seen from her, but again, it's a less common kind of role for her; she often dances soubrette parts. It also helped that Jared Angle partnered her; he always carries himself with nobility and dedication. The cool, mysterious Rebecca Krohn danced with Jonathan Stafford, a reliable squire, who will continue to teach and coach for the company. 

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