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MCB "Jewels" performancea humble consideration...


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#16 cahill

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Posted 25 October 2007 - 06:24 PM

MCB is off to the Detroit Opera House in an entirely different program, and then back to West Palm Beach (the Kravis) for the weekend of November 16-18.


But before these performances MCB will be performing at the Zellerbach Hall in Berkley, CA this weekend! Thanks for these insightful and detailed comments on Jewels, looking forward to seeing these performances at the Kravis!

#17 Jack Reed

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Posted 26 October 2007 - 01:24 PM

Cristian, I'm glad you like my post -- it was so long I was afraid people would get indigestion from it. But I'm not a south Floridian -- I'm a south Chicagoan! Anyway, now I'm encouraged to say what I think about the music (briefly, excellent, much better than the POB DVD, which I like less the more I play it) and the backdrop (briefly, it starts fine but gets to be overdone by the end, IMO) and summarize some of Villella's pre-performance remarks. He's always interesting, and usually gives insight into appreciating the program.

#18 Jack Reed

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 11:49 AM

Meanwhile, to answer bart's question, Daniel Sarabia and Joseph Phillips were listed in the Diamonds corps all four times in Broward, Zherlin Ndudi twice.

#19 bart

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 11:55 AM

Meanwhile, to answer bart's question, Daniel Sarabia and Joseph Phillips were listed in the Diamonds corps all four times in Broward, Zherlin Ndudi twice.

Interesting. That's a lot of talent,, though my impession at the showcase in September was that each (especially the young Ngudi) would benefit from additional time and work. I look forward to seeing how Villella develops them and how he uses them in the future.

#20 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 04:06 PM

Cristian, I'm glad you like my post -- it was so long I was afraid people would get indigestion from it. But I'm not a south Floridian -- I'm a south Chicagoan! Anyway, now I'm encouraged to say what I think about the music (briefly, excellent, much better than the POB DVD, which I like less the more I play it) and the backdrop (briefly, it starts fine but gets to be overdone by the end, IMO) and summarize some of Villella's pre-performance remarks. He's always interesting, and usually gives insight into appreciating the program.

So Chicago, ah?. I've been wanting to go there forever...Anyways, that was a labor of love you did with your excelent detailed review. As i was reading it, i was having flashes of my own performance experience, and it's very interesting, as you noted, to se reflected in somebody elses's writing your own feelings on a particular aspect or detail of the work, even small ones that one might think would pass unnoticed...I really look forward to see your posts in the future!.

What about Daniel Sarabia,

bart, i spotted Daniel Sarabia in the Corps. I can't wait to see him doing something more substantial soon. I saw him at the launching of the Classical Cuban Ballet of Miami Gala more than a year ago doing Don Quijote PDD, and he was great...

#21 Jack Reed

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Posted 29 October 2007 - 12:30 PM

some of Villella's pre-performance remarks They're from my notes, so they're fragmented; the insights are his, the mistakes mine:

Before he started on the repertory, Villella told us he was pretty happy, having just celebrated his seventy-first birthday and had his fiftieth reunion of his maritime college class soon after. Then, praise in the New York Times.

Jewels was out of repertory because we didn't have a set, it died, fell apart, but a couple gave us $250,000 for a new one.

This ballet is not a story, does not have literal characters; Balanchine chose three composers. With Faure', he gave us insights into French romanticism, one of his favorite styles. He and Suzanne Farrell visited van Cleef and Arpels. [The well-known story.] Jewels shows his deep regard and respect for women.

"Emeralds" is the gem and also the emerald of water. Port de bras, use of hands. The first woman feels herself adorned with gems. In the second variation, the woman dances for the man who's not there: longing. The pas de trois is as bravura as this ballet gets. The "Walking" pas de deux: The man is and is not there; he still isn't there, he is there in spirit. Balanchine takes ballet at many levels and mixes them all up. [compare my excerpts of his essay on Giselle:

http://ballettalk.in...mp;#entry214926

(Post #19) What I'm thinking of here is that in Giselle we have someone who is/isn't there; that ballet makes much more of that, of course, and with Balanchine 120 years later, in "Emeralds", it's the man who's there/not there. Or maybe noticing this is not helpful.]

"Rubies" is jazzy, saucy American neo-classicism. Sharpness, attack, off-balance. Balanchine loved horses. The pas de deux is maybe a jocket and a filly. Is that a pas de cinq or a filly and four grooms? We also hear horses (demonstrates with his hands) [when the toe shoes strike the stage in unison; at 53:20 on the POB DVD]. He had nicknames for everyone, like "Patricia McBridle" Coaches use terms like "walking the horse", "pulling the reins back" [demonstrates bit near the end of the pas de deux, where the boy pulls the girl to him, each with both their hands]. The four boys gallop around the stage.

"Diamonds" is not only an homage to Tchaikovsky and the Nineteenth Century, an homage to Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty, it's an homage to Woman. First movement as a swan lake; the twelve girls in a circle make a lake, two more come into it. In the pas de deux, the two principals enter opposite: Regality. Coaches say, You are alone (there's no audience) seeking perfection in ballet, and ballet is woman. He's selected from seven or eight cavaliers to service her: "You [may] support me this evening. Please don't make yourself obvious." As a reward for his service, he's allowed to kiss her hand. It's not about man and woman, it's about woman. Then, a scherzo. The Finale is absolutely brilliant. Patterns, use of space.

Balanchine told me at the time of the premiere he was not satisfied with the original set; he wanted a galaxy, a Milky Way. The jewels in the sky. This was technically impossible in 1967. He wanted a galaxy of chandeliers in the finale. Tony Walton, hearing about that, said, "fibre optics." We give you that galaxy of chandeliers.

After his talks, Villella takes questions as time allows:

A: We restage ballets with a repetiteur from the Balanchine Trust and then we video performances and use those. I have some sense of how to do it, having danced at NYCB for twenty years, but we don't rely on that, although some aspects like "jockey" and "filly" aren't easy to get from video.

#22 Jack Reed

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Posted 31 October 2007 - 12:07 PM

Cristian, I'm glad you liked the backdrop(s) for Jewels better than I did. I thought they started out fine, in "Emeralds", but later sometimes upstaged the dancing. (Some one reading here may be able to glimpse a bit of the "Emeralds" backdrop here, unless the page has changed in the meantime:

It looks to this old amateur astronomer less like the galaxy Villella told us Balanchine said he wanted (see above in Post #21) than like an irregular open star cluster, but there's no denying the celestial aspect. The original 1967 NYCB decor looked a bit overscaled but had the virture of matching the jewel decorations on the costumes, which some thought Karinska had overdone. Ah, well.

But at the beginning of "Rubies" the stage is lit in deep red light, so that it's harder to see the dancers than it is a few moments later when normal good, white stage light comes up, and the backdrop goes through some attention-getting changes in those moments, too.

And finally, for the record, in the end of the last movement of "Diamonds", the bell-shaped chandeliers outlined on the backdrop in little points of light start to shimmer with a regular, mechanical rythym. The dazzling effect really distracts from the dancing, I felt. All this may have had its origins in Balanchine's comments, but it's an attempt at literal realization of what he said he wanted, and I wonder sometimes whether Mr. B.'s words were always to be taken literally.

But that seems to be the contemporary fashion, as though lighting were as important as the choreography or the music, while my experience has taught me to think those things are the main things, and if sets and lighting and costumes just complement them, our enjoyment is greater.

On the other hand, the musical component of these performances was really superb, I thought. Not only good tempos, but well-shaped, singing phrases and clear balances so we could hear them. For example, in the last movement of "Diamonds", the anthem and the fugue are clearly set forth, much better than the muddled rendition by the Orchestra of the Opera national de Paris under Paul Connelly's direction on the Pro Arte DVD.

(After playing this part of that disc, I turn with relief to the great 1963 or 1964 recording by the Vienna Philharmonic directed by Lorin Maazel in the four-CD set of all the Tchaikovsky symphonies, London 430 787, unfortunately not generally available. Maazel's later recordings and his recent New York Philharmonic concert performance of the Third Symphony were not up to that standard, succumbing instead to the bad tradition of heavy exaggeration in Tchaikovsky performance.)

MCB's Opus One Orchestra isn't the Vienna Philharmonic, but it is a real orchestra, not a thin-sounding little band; I counted the names of forty-eight musicians in the program, not least among them Francisco Renno, MCB's remarkable Company Pianist: Not just another "rehearsal pianist" who can pound out the music, he's concert caliber, whose playing points up the witty byplay of Stravinsky's score in "Rubies" and helps to enliven the whole romping ballet. The conductor, Juan Francisco La Manna, can be proud. (Actually, taking applause on stage among the smiling dancers, he looked to be a serious little man. Maybe he felt out of place on the stage, or something. Here's hoping the orchestra continues with MCB, not least so Sr. La Manna gets used to taking his deserved applause!)

#23 bart

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Posted 17 November 2007 - 06:19 AM

Just back from the first Jewels of the weekend in West Palm.

Although I'd seen some of the dancing -- and costumes -- in an earlier studio peformance, this was my first time for the whole package. Hundreds of small green lights in a swirl pattern and against a black background for Emeralds; red backdrop, with formal vertical patterns of lights and outlines of chandeliers for Rubies; blazing white for Diamonds. I didn't notice any twinkling, as mentioned by Jack. Either they changed it or it looked different from my seat tot he side and one level up. The opening tableux (especially in Rubies, with the arc of dancers holding hands and facing the audience, women on point, brought gasps.

I have to take back my original negative comments on the Karinska-design costumes. Seen from a greater distance, they are wonderful, working for solos but also for the massing and movement of the corps. They have a rare combination of richness and ease of movement. The entrance of the Diamonds corps in the polonaise (downstage left to upstage right, then a right turn) was a real stunner. Especially since they appeared to be heading directly for me (one level up). The large jeweled collars in all three sets of costumes looked wonderful on stage, better than when seen close up. Costumer Haydee Morales and her crew did an incredible job.

I'll report on the dancing after I've seen other casts. Tonight's cast was the same as that reviewed by Alistair Macaulay in the Times, with a couple of exceptions and reassignments. Speaking about the leads only, the relevations for me were:

Mary Carmen Catoya in the Verdy role in Emeralds: the finest dancing and the most complete inhabiting of this role I've seen since the 60s. Her dancing flowed with the changes in rhythm and feeling in the music. All was beautifully shaped and serene.

Jennifer Kronenberg already had Rubies ready for any stage in the world when I saw this in September. It's a perfectly modulated and very exciting performance. The surprise was Andrea Spiridonakos, a bit tentative a couple of months ago, but confident and magnificent as the tall girl last night. It's wonderful to see growth like this. Renato Penteado, in the Villella role, has also added confidence and panache. Jumps are higher, extensions more bold, slides more daring, partnering more secure and involved. He isn't Villella (who is?), but he's getting closer. Very well done.

Another huge suprise for me was Deanna Seay in Diamonds. She is often a reserved dancer, tending almost to the austere. In Diamonds she has become expansive, more free, always refined. A glorious performance. I've never agreed with those who like the pas de deux danced with an overall mood of aloofness and mystery. The music has deep feeling. Seay -- and the excellent Isanusi Garcia-Rodrigues, a most attentive cavalier -- conveyed this.

And then there are those marvellous tableux -- and the complex interaction of corps, soloists, and principals in all three ballets -- and Balanchine's amazing ability to fill the stage with movement that is precise but flowing, classically beautiful but full of invention. That's the job of soloists and the corps. This was some of the best corps dancing I've seen from Miami. Everyone was engaged as an individual and also fitted smoothly into the ensemble. They got a big hand and some bravos at the end of the evening, and they deserved every minute of it.

Didier Bramaz was as good in the Emeralds pas de trois as Macaulay said. I love the way the dancer in this role becomes more and more significant as the ballet goes on. Bramaz also danced in both other ballets, He's an interesting dancer, very alert to detail and to what is going on around him. He's obviously very useful to the company.

:thumbsup: Rolando Sarabia was the Diamonds cavalier in the Miami performance reviewed by Alastair Macaulay. I haven't seen him perform yet, but can now say that I have seen him "on stage." During Garcia-Rodriguez's variation, I noticed an arm in modern shirt sleeve emerging from the side (stage right), quite visible from the boxes closest to the stage. I was distracted briefly as Sarabia edged further out. He was, observing his colleague and fellow Cuban closely, and apparently speaking to the dancer, possibly words of encouragement. Macaulay called Sarabia's performance "chivalrous, but somewhat stilff." I hope Sarabia got some tips from G-R's involved and commited partnering. Whatever happens, I hope to see him tonight or tomorrow.

P.S. New hires (as soloists) Daniel Sarabia and Joseph Phillips were in the Diamonds corps. I'm hoping they will be on view in solo roles in one of the other performances this weekend. Ditto Alex Wong, who made his little portion of the stage an island of alertness, engagement, beautiful technique, and pleasure..

#24 popularlibrary

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Posted 17 November 2007 - 12:32 PM

I haven't seen the Miami City production unfortunately (I'd love to) but some of the discussion here of the ballet itself seems to see it rather differently than I ever have. Perhaps because so many of the discussions are by the gentlemen of the forum, they don't seem to touch on some things that I think, from my female point of view, are basic and important. Ballet may be Woman, but the 'worship' in Balanchine in general and Jewels in particular is decidedly ambiguous. Man may worship but he also, as a stand-in for Balanchine the creator, wants to control, to shape and to manipulate - and his worship is often of woman not as a person but as material both obedient and pliant. Woman is Muse, but worship as an element of control is not the happiest of fates, and Balanchine's women are often in varying states of rebellion and attempted escape. ("They always left me," he said of his real-life women.) There are dark undertones and ironic rifts in all the Jewels relationships, and to at least some extent that is one of its unifying themes - one of the 'stories' so to speak. That the muse will always be elusive, that she cannot ever be captured, never stops these sons of James, both here and in so many Balanchine works, and they can do similar damage in their attempts.

In Emeralds, the woman of the walking duet either doesn't see or refuses to see her partner - who is controlling whom? who is real? In the pas de trois as I remember the original dancers, there was drama in John Prinz testing of his control over his two partners. And Balanchine eventually added the logical finale, in which the women desert the men, whether in fact or dream, leaving them alone to their evanescent fanatasies of Woman rather than actual women.

The glory of Rubies is the women fighting back - the 'tall' girl taunting the boys who manipulate her, and McBride (no other name should ever be given to this role) refusing to do anything she's told, twisting, collapsing, slithering out of his grasp, grabbing back control at any moment she can, and creating a glorious brawl, a street fight over just who is going to be the boss. If it is the most exhilarating section, I think it is so partly because it is the one place where the 'Muse' takes over and laughs, and the 'worshipper' actually enjoys it.

I find Diamonds the most deeply ambiguous of the three sections. Both d'Amboise, who created the role, and Martins, who danced it most frequently, are powerful and domineering men whose superb partnering and courtly respect never completely concealed their will to manipulate. It is an element of performance missing in the recent performances I have seen, especially the POB version. I find the climax of the duet in the ballerina's violent shudder - very clear and powerful on the dvd with Farrell. She may be adored. She is also trapped, and aware of it.

If I seem to have overemphasized these undercurrents - and sometimes overcurrents - it is because I don't see them acknowledged much otherwise, and I think they are central to the depth and complexity of Balachine's genius.

#25 leibling

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Posted 18 November 2007 - 04:15 PM

That is very thought provoking, popularlibrary. I have often sensed that relationship in Diamonds.... there is really no other explanation for the moment near the end of the pas de deux when the ballerina, having gone her own way (so to speak) throughout, suddenly returns to the cavalier, leads him across the stage with those bourees that do create an electric shudder, and then bends over his arm in seeming submission. However, in reflecting on the ending of Emeralds, for instance, your insight provided me with a darker, more ominous view of the second finale- the slow walking section. It almost seemed as if the women, in their quest to elude the men, sought to combine their powers in order to escape, and managed to outwit their pursuers through their collective effort. Hmmm- this is wonderful food for thought. Thank you!!

#26 bart

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Posted 18 November 2007 - 04:42 PM

I want to thank you also, popular library. I kept your post in mind during my next two performances, and have thought about it (in retrospect) even when remembering the opening night. I'm really wiped out by my Jewels weekend -- "over-Jeweled," in the sense of overstimulated, spiritually and visually. But I'll respond to your suggestions after a good night's sleep.

Just one point about liebling's comment on the ending of Jewels. I am very fond of the male dancer in the pas de trois and was paying close attention towards the end as he becomes more and more prominent among the three men. There was something about the ending that reminded me of Balanchine's Don Q -- the men are characters in this ballet too, not just partners.

At the end the women gradually depart -- slowly, almost anticlimactically. They also leave the 3 men alone on stage. I admit that I didn't see this as escape. After all, the women seem to fade into the background before the go. The choreographer is drawing the eye towards the 3 men who have been left alone on stage in that wonderful pose of homage and quest -- each man on one knee, looking out into space, one arm slowly rising and still moving upwards as the curtain falls. It's a hugely powerful image. I confess that, to me, those final seconds makes us consider the man still seeking the feminine ideal, while not even esponding to the departure of the real women he has just been dancing with. Although they have lost something, but they don't even seem to be aware of it. The yearning and seeking is what counts -- a very "romantic" message when you think of it. (From the male point of view.)

At this point, the ballet seems to me to have reversed itself: it's become a ballet "about" the men, in a powerful emotional way. I felt deep empathy for them at this point.

Is it possible that men and women see -- and respond to -- this ballet differently? There seems to be evidence within the work that supports more than one kind of resposne.

(Villella at the curtain raiser mentioned that Jewels contains "layers and layers and layers". Maybe our different interpretations is an example.)

#27 leibling

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Posted 18 November 2007 - 04:56 PM

That last gesture in Emeralds... I know what you mean, Bart- I also often see that out-stretched arm as emblematic of an unfulfilled search. Sometimes, though, in a strange way, this gesture is what links Emeralds to Rubies. I am starting to see Jewels as a bit of a journey, though I can not be specific as to where the journey takes me. Yet it was that gesture of the men- reaching toward something that we cannot see- and not in the direction of their ballerinas- that makes me wonder if in some way they are saying that life goes on.

Jewels, as a whole, bears the true sign of a masterpiece, in that the more I know it, the more I realize that there is so much more to explore.

#28 bart

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Posted 18 November 2007 - 05:06 PM

That last gesture in Emeralds... I know what you mean, Bart- I also often see that out-stretched arm as emblematic of an unfulfilled search. Sometimes, though, in a strange way, this gesture is what links Emeralds to Rubies. I am starting to see Jewels as a bit of a journey, though I can not be specific as to where the journey takes me. Yet it was that gesture of the men- reaching toward something that we cannot see- and not in the direction of their ballerinas- that makes me wonder if in some way they are saying that life goes on.

Jewels, as a whole, bears the true sign of a masterpiece, in that the more I know it, the more I realize that there is so much more to explore.

"Absolutely!" to all of the above. Your suggestion that the gesture is "what links Emeralds to Rubies" -- well, I will never see Jewels again without thinking of that. It might almost be like one of those novels where you see characters living at one time -- and then their descendents living centuries later. "Life goes on." In this ballet, it happens to go on in this ballet to America in the jazzy 30s or 40s, with an entirely different, feel, energy, movement language, and costuming. Wonderful!

By the way, until this weekend I always throught of this work as 3 distinct ballets joined by the imagery of color and the metaphor of gems. Your post made me realize a I've been calling it "this ballet" (singular) all weekend.

#29 popularlibrary

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Posted 19 November 2007 - 09:38 AM

Thank you bart and leibling for those responses, and for more food for thought. It fascinates me that Balanchine did not add the final pas de sept until he rethought the section for the Dance in America filming. I wonder for how long and in what creative mental cellar that had been percolating for him. The original, sort of standard, finale to Emeralds obviously felt incomplete to him, and I think that addition helped clarify Jewels' themes and bind the three parts together both subtly and powerfully.

I agree, the men are characters, perhaps as much and even more than the women. They are never mere partners - they are more the subject of their creator perhaps than their women, who are his objects; they represent him in many aspects, from the Apollonian to the Orphic, that is from classical balance to romantic courting of chaos. I'm not sure what the Emeralds trio is reaching for, but they seem to allow their women to evaporate while they reach out for - what? The wild women of Rubies? The conflicted Odette/Empress of Diamonds? Who knows. What I think is undeniable is Balanchine's - probably religiously based - belief that life, growth, creativity come from longings that can never be fulfilled in the everyday, or in life at all. Or maybe it's a hangover from Romanticism crossed with theology.

Perhaps what women may see a little more readily is the cost to the idealized beloveds. But you are surely right that Jewels, and most of Balanchine's masterpieces, support many complex responses, sometimes from one performance to the next, or one dancer to the next.

#30 bart

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Posted 19 November 2007 - 10:02 AM

I agree, the men are characters, perhaps as much and even more than the women. They are never mere partners - they are more the subject of their creator perhaps than their women, who are his objects; they represent him in many aspects, from the Apollonian to the Orphic, that is from classical balance to romantic courting of chaos. I'm not sure what the Emeralds trio is reaching for, but they seem to allow their women to evaporate while they reach out for - what? The wild women of Rubies? The conflicted Odette/Empress of Diamonds? Who knows. What I think is undeniable is Balanchine's - probably religiously based - belief that life, growth, creativity come from longings that can never be fulfilled in the everyday, or in life at all. Or maybe it's a hangover from Romanticism crossed with theology.

popularllibrary and liebling, I've read a lot about Jewels, but never insights like these -- based on close looking and, not always the same thing, seeing what is transpiring on stage. Reading such comments has made a huge difference to me. Thank you!

Much of what is repeated about Balanchine's depiction of women has always seemed to me to be oversimplified and perhaps taking what Balanchine said a little too much at face value. The worlds revealed by this ballet is much more complicated than what pops up again and again in too many reviews and texts.

Thank you also, popularlibrary, for the information on the conclusion of Emeralds. I either didn't know that or had forgotten it. Either way, it's good to have it back in my databank. :(


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