I had to miss the Diamonds coaching session with Jacques d’Amboise, so was very glad that I could make it to the session on Emeralds. Violette Verdy and Mimi Paul were here a few years ago, and I got to see them in action back then, so it was a particular treat to see their work again.
The studio was pretty crowded, both with dancers and observers. When PNB first started offering these kind of events, attendance was erratic, but they’ve really started to catch on in the past few years. We saw (no particular order) Carla Korbes, Joshua Grant, Elizabeth Murphy, Lindsi Dec, Eric Hipolito, Stephan Loch, Price Suddarth, Margaret Mullin, William Lin-Yee, Jerome Tisserand, and Karel Cruz at various times, with several other company members watching from the balcony upstairs.
They started with Mimi Paul, working with Lindsi Dec on her solo, with Elizabeth Murphy doubling behind. Paul is very soft-spoken – we really cannot hear her comments at all, but instead have to infer what she says based on Dec’s responses. It’s an interesting kind of detective assignment. Paul seems to be asking for more torque all around, in the torso, in total body shapes, and particularly in open positions. She’s also asking for more pliancy in plié, especially articulating the waltz tempo – a couple of balances got very lush in the process. Paul also seems to be concerned about the specifics of timing (no surprise in a Balanchine work) – she claps the uneven rhythm of a precipite, and Dec starts to make a much more nuanced phrase out of what had been more undifferentiated waltzing. In general, Dec is a very sunny dancer – even when she’s doing something more harsh or fierce (like her Myrtha) she has a fundamental equilibrium. Her challenge is to take the longer way around, and find the subtle variations in the work.
Verdy doesn’t seem to be able to keep from working – she sneaks around behind Paul and Dec, and keeps tinkering with Korbes’ hand gestures, with Mullin and Murphy doubling. Finally it’s her turn to work in the big space, and it’s still all about the hands – they initiate, they lead, they articulate the main timing and the filigree. She’s louder, and she’s working with more than one person, so we can hear what she’s saying. In a funny way, she seems to be almost separated from the hands – it’s like she’s flirting with them. I used to think that Louise Nadeau had extra joints in her arms in this solo, and I can see where that came from here – people like to say that Balanchine didn’t really like big port de bras, but they sure weren’t thinking of this solo.
She’s very specific about the tilt of the torso – it looks like a true Romantic silhouette with the cantilever affect from the hips. And indeed, with one moment where the hands are both at the small of the back, it looks just like Giselle or Sylphide. She tells them to really “lean away from your jiggling leg (in a ronde de jambe a la second). Interestingly, she encourages them to speed up some preparations in order to take the main action more slowly – “more mellow,” “you can really splurge on this port de bras.” And back to the flirting image from above “you don’t do it to your arm, you arm does it to you.” I ask “what is my arm doing?” “You don’t make it happen – let it become.”
Paul worked with Dec and Cruz on the walking duet – they seemed to be having some trouble with handholds, but I don’t think it was serious – Dec said a couple of time “but this worked earlier today.” Paul seemed to be asking for more torque and tilt, as earlier with Dec alone.
Verdy had another turn, this time with Korbes and Grant on the duet (with Loch/Merchant and Lin Ye/Murphy behind them) One of her first comments was “don’t clutch hands” – she’s really interested in the lightness of it. Korbes was fully involved as a performer – the rest seemed to split their attention between doing and listening to Verdy. Even though there’s no “official” story in the work, Verdy sees it as full of relationship – “make an escape and stop” before “a little situation.” “It’s yes, no, yes, not – and then a completely different mood – he has turned you.”
There was time for a short Q/A at the end of the session n—Paul and Verdy talked about first meeting (Paul was only 12).
Q – what has changed in the work?
A – (Verdy) Balanchine was “adaptable” – he wanted dancers to be comfortable, and so was open to changes.
(Paul) described the changes he made in the her solo that she put back in the last time she was here.
(Peter Boal) reminded us that the second duet was added later, along with the final scene which “ends on a brighter note”
(Verdy) commented that Balanchine had the music for that duet “in his pocket” since his time with Diaghilev – it just took until the 1960s to make something with it.
Q – how are dancers different?
A – (Verdy) they are dedicated, but more knowing (I think she meant more aware of the world altogether) know what they are doing, making decisions for themselves (rather than guidance from director)
And later, Verdy commented that Balanchine was not possessive about his work – he thought he was at the service of the dancer’s skills.