Miami City Ballet shared a glittering jewelry box with us March 18 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts by presenting a treasure: Jewels.
This iconic ballet, which is performed by numerous ballet companies around the world, was choreographed for New York City Ballet in 1967 by George Balanchine who always claimed that, despite the title, his evening-length ballet was not inspired by rare gems.
On first viewing, one might wonder why the trilogy — composed of three sections called “Emeralds,” “Rubies” and “Diamonds” — is considered a full-length ballet as each act looks nothing like the other. There is little to tie the plotless ballet together other than the bejeweled costumes (which recollect different time periods but have similar design elements) and the subtle twinkle of images created from a constellation of tiny lights on the the backdrop.
Inspired by the music of three different composers, each section of Jewels represented a special place and time in Balanchine’s illustrious life. Balanchine created them to complement each other and to be performed together even though the various sections have been performed on their own as separate works.
The contrasting moods of the three mini-ballets gave the dancers of Miami City Ballet an opportunity to show a broad range of styles. Each section sparkled in its own particular way.
Softly romantic in tone, “Emeralds,” with its lilting score from French composer Gabriel Fauré, paid homage to the style of ballet in France where Balanchine had his first professional experiences with Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes.
The corps de ballet of women danced in pleasing unison, capturing the lush and languid quality of the musical excerpts from Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande (1898) and Shylock (1889). Dressed in knee-length, vivid green and white tutus inspired by folk clothes, the dancers looked like they were gamboling in fresh country meadows, which created an attractive framework for the pairing of lead couple Tricia Albertson and Rainer Krenstetter.
Many new dancers have joined MCB during this time of COVID. Almost a third of the corps de ballet is new. Also new to the company — and sparkling like a real gem — was Principal Soloist Hannah Fischer. She was an absolute standout in her solo in “Emeralds.” Her movement was deliciously rich and fulfilled every note of Fauré’s beautiful melodies. Principal Steven Loch, also new to MCB this season, was a most attentive partner who nicely complemented Fischer’s fluid movement. Also looking impeccable was the trio — Mayumi Enokibara and Samatha Hope Galler with Damian Zamorano.
Jewels also marked a farewell for principal dancer Krenstetter, who has danced with MCB for eight years. In these final performances, he again demonstrated not only that he is an admirable partner but also that he is an accomplished technician as he looked particularly impressive dancing with Loch and Zamorano on Friday night.
“Rubies,” the sassy core of the work, was a diametric change. Set to the Capriccio for piano and orchestra (1929) by longtime Balanchine friend Igor Stravinsky, “Rubies” conjures up the all-American feeling of Broadway and New York City — where in 1933 Balanchine made his home.
In this lively and light-hearted section of the ballet, the red-haired dynamo Alexander Peters stole the show with his charisma and brilliantly clean technique. His role was originated by Edward Villella, founder and former Artistic Director of MCB.
Set in a dark red, jazz club ambience, the choreography for “Rubies” was signature Balanchine. Off-kilter shapes, angular moves (including that famous hip thrust) and precise parallel pointe work permeated the choreography.
Counterpoint to her partner Peters’ sizzling energy, Jennifer Lauren was a blur amid all the strutting showbiz girls at the nightclub. Though Lauren was as theatrically engaging as always, she lacked the clean attack to give Balanchine’s bold movement more clarity. Jordan-Elizabeth Long, dancing with authority and cool determination, performed the role of the Tall Girl.
In the last section, Jewels made another 180-degree change. “Diamonds,” set to four movements from Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 3 (in D, Op. 29), highlighted the Russian-born Balanchine’s first artistic influence — the regal and formal style of the Imperial Russian ballet.
Ashley Knox and Renan Cerdeiro led the cast, which had swelled to 32 dancers who were dressed in short, white tutus or white tights and tunics encrusted in diamonds. Classical and understated, the dancers coolly shimmered with stately elegance in their orderly formations that recalled a time of past opulence and culture.
The long ensemble choreography was punctuated with a pas de deux for Knox and Cerdeiro. Juxtaposed to a particularly dramatic part of Tchaikovsky’s score, Balanchine chose to choreograph a duet that was understated and pure — low lifts, low extensions and a quiet ending with just two slow pirouettes and a courtly kiss from Cerdeiro on Knox’s hand. Knox who is a clean and compact dancer, and Cerdeiro who is a tall and elegant dancer, were a nice combination together — a refreshing one.
Throughout the three sections, there was a motif of walking — of taking steps — that appeared in many of the solos and pas de deux. Some direct, some wandering. Others partnered or alone. Some forward, some backwards. Others on pointe or on heels. Some confident, some tentative. There seemed to be a quiet message in this plotless ballet that life’s journey is made from all these kinds of steps strung together — one at a time.
Musical Director Gary Sheldon led The Opus One Orchestra with his usual aplomb through the three forays into the music of three very different composers.
Though I had quite a few Jewels in my memory box before this performance, I am adding my newest gem — Miami City Ballet’s performance.