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JEWELS (Philadelphia Academy of Music)

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I combined a family visit and an opportunity to see Miami City Ballet perform this beautiful ballet in the beautifully restored Academy of Music. The dancers were all wonderful. They are an attractive, well-trained company with a lot of charisma. . This was the second time I've seen Miami perform, and I wish I could see them more often. EMERALDS posed some technique problems, but when doesn't it? It's so difficult. I've never seen RUBIES danced better and DIAMONDS, was, well, precious.

The only complaint is that they perform to pre-recorded music. However, their musicality was such that it didn't matter to them. Still, it is too bad to hear all that gorgeous music canned.

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I have never been to a performance of MCB at one of their major venue's when the music was not live. I am sure that when they are on the road, it is a luxury that is a bit too expensive. So next season, take a vacation to Florida, and enjoy our good nature--there is soooooo much here besides theme parks. And take in MCB with a live symphony.

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The Academy of Music is a lovely looking theater, but I have never seen a ballet in a more unsuitable venue. Philadelphians: does PB perform there on a regular basis? I admit that I haven't seen PB in many years and the last time was not in Philadelphia, so I don't remember ever being in that theater before. I would have to think long and hard before I decided to go there again for a ballet performance.

Four of us attended Saturday evening's MCB Jewels. The performance was quite lovely, and I'll get to that shortly. First the details about the theater:

The ticket prices ranged from $17 to $90. $90 would buy you a ticket in the orchestra, I imagine--we didn't spring for that. The orchestra however, is the only place where you are guaranteed full vision--that is if you are over 6 and a half feet tall or so. There is almost no pitch in the seats--a woman I spoke with had 12th row center and moved up to the balcony (more on that later) where she was seated so far over that she was almost on the stage. Up in the balcony there are lovely decorative columns (they probably hold up the ceiling as well, but really poor design for ballet) every 15 feet or so, so you have a pretty good chance of having at least some of your vision obscured by a column. In addition, the lovely horseshoe shape of the balcony is esthetically pleasing, but it means that there are almost no balcony center seats. I was told that our seats were "a little off to the side".Uh-huh. Right. The column in our area didn't seem problematic to me until the curtain went up on "Emeralds" at which point I realized that I was going to be doing some serious head twisting. Luckily there was no one behind me to be annoyed. Two of us moved to get away from the post for "Rubies" and "Diamonds". We moved to the same almost-on-stage-with-the-dancers far side of the balcony but at least there was no pole right in front of our faces.

The design of the seating notwithstanding: where is the orchestra pit? As far as we could see, there is none. I was almost positive that PB performs with live orchestra in Philly, additionally aren't operas performed at the Academy? And additionally: the stage is miniscule. Emeralds and Rubies, with their small corps looked fine--indeed the smallness of the stage was excellent for the intimacy of Emeralds...but in Diamonds the stage just looked crowded. At one point, Franklin Gamero did a manege, finished at stage right, covered the entire width of the stage in about three steps, and literally ran out of space.

I've gone on now about the problems and it sounds as if I did not enjoy the evening--I did, very much, in spite of the problems. I couldn't fully concentrate on Emeralds, usually my favorite section, because I was so frustrated by the pole. The women in Emeralds however, were exquisite. Mary Carmen Catoya, in particular, is perfectly suited to this ballet.

Rubies knocked me out!!! It was spot-on technically. I was especially impressed by Michelle Merrell in the tall girl part.

The recorded music was especially problematic for me in Diamonds. The grandeur of the Tchaicovsky does not come across in a recording. Conversely, the recording for Rubies was so very good that I liked in better than some live performances of that score that I have heard.

I do think the ticket prices were high. Our partial view seats were $50. That's four performances of NYCB in the Fourth Ring--granted in the stratosphere, but I have never had partial vision there, nor have I had to contend with a column.

I realize that I have said far more about the theater than the dancing...and now I am late for work!

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I attended the same performance as rkoretzky — in fact we were sitting together :) until she decided to move to the first row to avoid the column. I'd seen MCB's Jewels two years ago at the Kennedy Center, where it so overwhelmed me that I went twice. Saturday's performance was just as glowing and satisfying. Having seen Jewels performed by NYCB (many times), the Kirov, and POB, I have to say that if I had to choose one company to watch dance this ballet, it would be MCB. No, they don't have the perfect bodies and refined technique of the other, world-class, companies, but they have what is more important: a thorough understanding of the Balanchine style and of the differences among the three ballets, and an obvious love of dancing them. (This was something that struck me a couple of years ago when watching various companies, MCB included, in the Kennedy Center's Balanchine Festival: how all the dancers looked overjoyed to be able to dance these ballets. This is something I've never seen at NYCB.)

Much of the beauty of MCB's Emeralds comes from the company's style, which is more relaxed than any of the majors. Perhaps it's not having to compete at the very top level that enables them simply to enjoy the dancing and luxuriate in the movement, or maybe it's being away from the tension of major urban centers, or — in contrast to the Kirov — not having the anxiety of trying to prove that they're up to the challenge. Mary Carmen Catoya had just the right maturity and glow for the Verdy role, and Deanna Seay caught the youth and delicacy of the Paul part. I was disappointed not to see Yann Trividic, but his replacement, Ruslan something (sorry, don't have my program with me) was fine. The same could not be said for the other principal man, who had no line and was thoroughly earthbound.

Rubies, too, had the right look — not brittle or harsh, as it can appear in some companies' productions, but a deep, fiery glow that brought out the wit in the choreography. Jennifer Kronenberg is taller than most ballerinas who dance the McBride part, and her long legs seemed to get in the way during the adagio, but otherwise she danced it well.

Diamonds is my least favorite of the three ballets, and is in fact one of my least favorite Balanchines of all time. Rkoretzky has mentioned the fact that the grandeur of the Tchaikovsky score doesn't come across in a recording — it sounds like bombast. Iliana Lopez's performance looked somewhat effortfull, too, but the corps and demis, as always with this company, were compulsively watchable.

This is a great company, and Jewels has practically become its signature piece. It's worth a trip to see it.

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I reread my post and was mortified to realize the number of times that I used the word "lovely"! I do have a larger vocabulary than that post would have indicated....

But maybe I did so because lovely really was the operative word of the evening. A congenial group attending the ballet together (Ari and yours truly, my daughter and my sister-in-law), a performance that ranged from very good to outstanding, and fabulous gelato a few blocks away from the theater--lots of fun!

I think Ari has hit it right on the head. For me the most spectacular aspect of the performance was the range of style that is the essence of Jewels. For a relatively small and chronologically young company (once again, since 1986?) to be able to carry this off is quite a feat, and again I think credit goes to Villella and his desire to use his former colleagues, the originators of the roles, as coaches. No small coincidence then, that the dancer who took Eddie's own part (don't have program handy, sorry) reminded me so much of Eddie himself.

Again, I thought Diamonds to be the weakest segment, but part of that has to be arributed to the crowded stage, making it difficult to communicate the grandeur of the Russian tradition. I have seen Illiana Lopez and Franklin Gamero in many roles, and although I had high expectations for Diamonds, I thought their performance was a bit flat. Question: do they ALWAYS dance together? I have never seen either of them with another partner.

Since Ari mentioned it, I will concur with her assesment of Carlos Guerra (I hope I got the name right) in the Emeralds section. In fact, overall, I found the men considerably weaker than I had noticed in previous performances. Perhaps MCB is in a transition period with male dancers--I believe that Eric Quillere has retired, I saw Arnold Quintane's name on the program, but thought he had retired too?, and now Franklin within the year.

The women in this company are marvelous, and again there is such a range of style and type for a relatively small troupe.

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