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Jewels: September 26-27; October 2-6


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I'm still writing up notes from the Emeralds session, but after the program, Doug F said that they'd been filming quite a lot, and were hoping to pull together a kind of documentary. Not sure what that entails, but any footage of these coaching sessions is to the good!

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Casting is up for both weekends (as always, subject to change):

http://www.pnb.org/Season/14-15/Jewels/#Casting

There are a lot of major debuts, more than dancers reprising their roles:

In Emeralds:

  • Elizabeth Murphy, Margaret Mullin, and Leah Merchant in the Verdy role (and Carla Korbes)
  • William Lin-Yee, Joshua Grant, and Steven Loch in the Ludlow role
  • Margaret Mullin, Amanda Clark, Kyle Davis, Jahna Frantziskonis, Leta Biasucci, Price Suddarth, Brittany Reid, Eric Hipolito Jr., and Carli Samuelson in the Pas de Trois
  • Lindsi Dec, Laura Tisserand, and Elizabeth Murphy in the Paul role
  • Charles McCall and Eric Hipolito Jr in the Moncion role (and Karel Cruz)

In Rubies:

  • Leta Biasucci, Angelica Generosa, and Jahna Franziskonis in the McBride role (and Lesley Rausch)
  • Jerome Tisserand and Matthew Renko in the Villella role (and Jonathan Porretta and James Moore)

In Diamonds:

  • Lesley Rausch in the Farrell role (with Carla Korbes, Carrie Imler, and Laura Tisserand)
  • William Lin-Yee and Jerome Tisserand in the d'Amboise role (and Batkhurel Bold and Karel Cruz)

MIA: Seth Orza (knee surgery), Rachel Foster (having a baby), Kylee Kitchens (having a baby). Maria Chapman had a daughter in July, but won't be back in time to reprise her radiant "Emeralds" (Paul role) sad.png

Benjamin Griffiths, Kiyon Gaines, and Sarah Orza are the Soloists who aren't listed for featured roles.

PNB Jewels Sep-Oct 2014.xls

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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.

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Thanks so much for the link -- I thought this comment

"All the costumes are designed by the same woman – the fabulous Karinska, and thankfully there’s not a single hair change during the performance… I think."

was great. We hear lots of discussion about the travails of shifting from pointe to flat to bare feet and back again, but we don't think as much about the challenges of costumes.

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I remember Francia Russell once describing having to do two (or three?) roles in "Symphony in C" and having to tear out the headpiece between movements.

PNB is having a 48-hour sale -- since it was dated today, through Friday: 20% off tickets to the first five performances of "Jewels" (Friday and two Saturday performances first weekend and Thursday and Friday second weekend):

https://www.pnb.org/promo/diamonddeals

(Use this link or call 206-441-2424 and mention "DiamondDeals")

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Casting updates:

First weekend,

  • Charles McCall replaced Karel Cruz in the Moncion role in "Emeralds."
  • Eric Hipolito, Jr. replaced Kyle Davis in the Saturday evening performance of the "Emeralds" Pas de trois, moving up his debut.

Second weekend,

  • Margaret Mullin's and Steven Loch's debuts in the Verdy/Ludlow roles in "Emeralds" moves to Thursday, 2 October, replacing Carla Korbes and Joshua Grant.
  • Batkhurel Bold replaces Karel Cruz in "Diamonds" on Thursday, 2 October and Sunday, 5 October, partnering Laura Tisserand.
  • Charles McCall replaces Karel Cruz in "Emeralds" (Moncion role) on Saturday, 4 October.

Bold partners both Korbes and Tisserand in "Diamonds," and McCall partners both Dec and Tisserand in "Emeralds." Edited to add: In the original and current schedules William Lin-Yee partners both Elizabeth Murphy and Leah Merchant in the Verdy/Ludlow couple in "Jewels." and all three have made or are making their role debuts this season.

Here's the updated spreadsheet; you shouldn't have to be logged in to download it:

PNB Jewels Sep-Oct 2014 Update 1.xls

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... it’s still all about the hands – they initiate, they lead, they articulate the main timing and the filigree. ... she seems to be almost separated from the hands – it’s like she’s flirting with them.

... “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.”

...

(Peter Boal) reminded us that… [later Balanchine added] the final scene which “ends on a brighter note”

Yes, yes, and yes. This is exactly how it struck me, in January 1973, when I first saw her do this - her hand began; she regarded the hand, her head far "up," for an instant, to see what it would do; and the movement spread over her, down her body, and as the music spun, she turned. Exactly; but of course. As the French say.

(This is sometimes still called "The Spinner," the translation of Faure''s title, La fileuse, relating in some way to the drama he wrote this suite to accompany. You can just about hear the wheel spinning.)

But, what magic!

But now I'm in the awkward position of disagreeing with Peter Boal: I think the original ending, the ensemble that is now the second number from the end, is a much brighter, upbeat conclusion than the slow, dark, and somber one the ballet has ended with since Verdy's retirement, when Mr. B. added it. (Indeed, Faure''s title for its music translates as, "The Death of Melisande". It's a dirge.)

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(Peter Boal) reminded us that… [later Balanchine added] the final scene which “ends on a brighter note”

But now I'm in the awkward position of disagreeing with Peter Boal: I think the original ending, the ensemble that is now the second number from the end, is a much brighter, upbeat conclusion than the slow, dark, and somber one the ballet has ended with since Verdy's retirement, when Mr. B. added it. (Indeed, Faure''s title for its music translates as, "The Death of Melisande". It's a dirge.)

Oh no, you don't disagree with PB -- I wasn't clear enough in my original post. He said that the former ending (the big ensemble tableau) was the brighter and more upbeat finish. The new ending is much more melancholy

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Jonathan Porretta, Leta Biasucci, and Laura Tisserand in the end of "Rubies":

An excerpt from the "Rubies" coaching session with Edward Villlella (Porretta and Biasucci):

Violette Verdy coaching her solo in "Emeralds" to Margaret Mullin (orange skirt), Carla Korbes (grey/black skirt), and Elizabeth Murphy (blue skirt):

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Oh no, you don't disagree with PB -- I wasn't clear enough in my original post. He said that the former ending (the big ensemble tableau) was the brighter and more upbeat finish. The new ending is much more melancholy

Thanks for the clarification, sandik. Not to mention, for the original post, as well!

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Jewels program October 2 and 3, 2014

In general they seem a little careful with these, showing clear, clean and at times rather lovely performances in which you can continuously delight in the sensitive and perceptive way the choreography responds to and comments on the music, but for all that it does look a little "prepared" and mild, not that I want anybody to look insecure or confused, but freshness is less evident than I'd like, though more than with POB or Mariinski. Yes. Better than them. But not Villella's MCB.

The soloists and principals sometimes do achieve more of the illusion that they're dancing how what they're hearing now conveys to them; this came and went in Carrie Imler's Rubies demi on Thursday, where she also got the timing but not* entirely the pose of that startling upside-down face near the end of the first movement, one of the more eye-popping bits in a ballet seemingly largely constructed casually to pop eyes that's disappeared over the years.

But spontaneity can go to excess, and I felt Jahna Frantziskonis and Matthew Renko had a great time somewhat obscuring what's set, on Friday, and I was happier with Lesley Rausch and Jerome Tisserand on Thursday. Not everyone agrees, as I hope we will see, for the benefit of the discussion.

But I liked Carla Korbes and Laura Tisserand enough better in Emeralds on Friday than Margaret Mullin and Elizabeth Murphy on Thursday that I wondered whether moving up from Row S to Row M could have made all the difference until I saw the rest of the program. It hadn't, as Rubies showed, and M is the place for this spectator. (Price Suddarth was distinguished by a joyous demeanor, if not by the loft some casts give the Emeralds pas de trois, and I look forward to seeing him in more exposed roles, as well as to a little more altitude from the well-matched three dancers.) The excellence of these two early variations meant that the rest of the ballet ran a bit downhill from there toward the end, however.

Friday evening Imler led Diamonds a little remotely but with considerable finish, and the (large) ensemble particularly distinguished itself here. I think sitting in Row M helped, too.

I can always quibble: The theater lacks good acoustics, at least in the center of the orchestra seats, so that the conclusion of the last movement of Tchaikovsky's Suite No. 3, the finale of Balanchine's Theme and Variations, played pretty fast before the dancing program as a celebration of the PNB orchestra's 25th year, was a blurry piece for drums and brass with something else for winds and strings possibly related going on, even though the excellent Emil de Cou led it; the music for the ballet program itself was much more clearly balanced but sounded a lot like it was being played in another room.

More steeply raked up rows in the center orchestra might have helped with this as well as with the sight lines; and the seat-labeling system, where there are three identically-lettered and numbered seats across the hall, distinguished one from another only by the section, "Orchestra 1" being the center, "Orchestra 2" and "Orchestra 3" being the two side sections, may have contributed to the ticket-computer's confusion to the point of assigning me and another person to the same seat in Row M in Orchestra 1. (Other theaters use seat numbers 100 and above for the center, with odd-numbered and even-numbered seats in the opposite side sections.)

*I omitted this word originally

Edited by Jack Reed
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The acoustics in McCaw Hall are generally quite grand, but the brass and drums sounded heavy from all three places I heard it from last weekend in the T&V excerpts. On the other hand, I found it kind of thrilling, like the 1812 Overture.

In a Q&A Peter Boal joked that the tempo was un-danceable.

The numbering system is dumb, especially since the section numbers are on the top of the arm rests in a little disc that sometimes is missing or obscured by the arm of the person in the back row aisle seat. It keeps the ushers on their toes, though.

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There were many discussions about how to identify the different sections of the house when they went through the big remodel -- I think the system they've got now is the sum of a fairly complex math problem combining a lot of options. They used to have the same problem (assigning the same seat twice) before the change -- I think it's a function of how they track subscription seats and single ticket sales. I've gotten bumped around a couple of times when I've been there as a critic (I often get returned tickets or other last-minute shifts) and have watched it happen to others -- I have big admiration for the house staff as they try to adjudicate these snafus, often as the lights are going down for the curtain.

One of the good things they did during their year-plus in the hockey arena (during the remodel) was to plaster almost every row with both the row and seat number information, but also the section designation. Helene is right, if the person sitting on the aisle in the row just inside the doors is leaning on their elbow or has draped their coat over the side of their seat, you can't find the section designation.

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Thanks to Helene for the video trio above -- I just want to say what a pleasure it is to watch Lindsay Thomas' increasing mastery of camerawork and editing -- her work has always been very clean, but that Rubies performance section was exceptional.

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I just saw the Saturday evening performance. Through a weird array of circumstances, i managed to see NYCB's Jewels three times during their winter/spring season this year, and tonght is my fave jewels of the year. Rubies had a directness/verve that was slighly lacking in NYCB's and while it may be a result of this being the first/seemingly last time I'll see Korbes in the role, her performance and musicality in diamonds were exceptional, even if she seemed to be carrying a slight injury/hesistancy at times. (Emeralds always leaves me perplexed so i need to leave that aside for now.) I can think of other parts of other performances that i preferred, but on the whole tonight was the most initially satisfying.

I noticed alastair macaulay hard at work during intermissions (he's generally a socially wandering about type at NYCB intermissions), so, as he seems to be one of PNB's go-to critics for quotes (see, e.g., tonight's program), will be interesting to see his thoughts.

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Alastair Macaulay was at tonight's post-performance Q&A as well.

If he stuck around for more discussion, I suspect that bodes well for a good review...and that would not be not surprising for him for this company, which he took a shine to years ago, if i remember correctly.

I have always wanted to go the post-show Q&As that seem a uniquely PNB thing (at NYCB we get interns doing well-intentioned mid show talks for big rep pieces, and ABT does...uhhh....) but always seem to need to catch a monorail back downtown for dinner or something. I was walking down the steps when I heard the announcement re the talk, knew i was meeting friends in belltown for sushi, but i almost wanted to march back up to ask how the hell did they turn my least favorite jewels piece, Rubies, into something that turned me into a grinning bufoon, wanting more? I mean, there were technical flaws others could latch onto to criticize, but it stripped away the dustiness and formalism of NYCB's, and just felt like fun at a very high technical level.

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From Matthew Renko's post performance talk after his PNB Rubies debut on friday:

"I mean, halfway through the pas de deux, I'm dying, but then I look at my partner...Jahna (he gestures to her and everyone laughs), and I think, 'Yeah, I can rhumba some more!'"

More later.

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