Seeing the Miami City Ballet’s opening program of the season Nov. 18, which featured George Balanchine’s Jewels, was very much like opening a box and finding an array of precious gems inside, beautifully crafted in elegant and intricate settings.
Each section of Balanchine’s acclaimed triptych was distinctly different but all were polished, multi-faceted and brought to lustrous life by the dancers of the MCB.
“Emeralds,” the first ballet in the full-evening work, had an air of mysterious romance as the performers danced with gorgeous fluidity to the exquisite music of French composer Gabriel Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande (1898) and Shylock (1889).
Jennifer Lauren is always a standout performer but in her role debut in “Emeralds,” she was exceptionally lovely. Her musical interpretation and phrasing were rich in detail yet still engagingly subtle. She has the uncanny ability to pull you into her world as she dances.
The versatile Chase Swatosh was her counterpart. Looking strong and graceful throughout, he demonstrated a very natural and fluid partnering ability in the seemingly easy mid-level lifts in which he continuously carried Lauren as if a small gust of wind had caught her and lifted her in the air, often magically changing direction.
The 10 ladies of the corps de ballet, dressed in green bejeweled velvet bodices with long matching green tulle skirts, beautifully executed their steps and formations, creating a framework that evoked a time of gloaming in a summer garden. Samantha Hope Galler and Nicole Stalker, together with new company member Harrison Monaco, were wonderfully spirited and showed exceptionally clean technique and unison work in their trio.
Simone Messmer, with her classically pristine line and technique, was partnered with Jovani Furlan, and they made a refined and regal couple as she led him on their way, taking each step en pointe. The handsome Furlan is maturing and developing a stately presence onstage. With an easy aplomb, he promenaded Messmer, showing her elegant arabesque.
The bright and delightful Lauren Fadeley (with her extreme leg lines) led off “Rubies,” the next section of the ballet. “Rubies” is about Balanchine’s America and it was intended to be a bold contrast and a complete departure from the dreamy mood of “Emeralds.” Filled with his distinctive signature hip-thrusts and flexed hands and feet, Balanchine set this work to Stravinsky’s Capriccio for piano and orchestra (1929), a playful score that has a distinctly jazzy theme.
This center section of Jewels is unabashedly showy, starting from its opening pose where 12 dancers connected with each other with lowered arms and stood motionless in relevé looking like an opulent gem-studded necklace in a display case. The dark red-on-red scheme on the backdrop and in the costumes conjured up a mood of the burlesque.
The towering tiaras, bejeweled bodices and tunics in Jewels, which were designed by Karinska and re-created by Haydee Morales, as well as the tiny lights the color of gems scattered across the backdrops designed by Tony Walton, are some of the elements that unite these three ballets into the abstract neoclassical evening-length iconic work that it is.
Tricia Albertson and Kleber Rebello were paired as the jaunty couple in “Rubies.” The mood was fun, fast and quirky and the movement needed to be clear, concise and fully executed. But the soloist couple did not resonate as the other lead pas de deux couples had in the other sections of Jewels. They seemed to lag and lack the clarity and attack that Stravinsky’s quick-paced tempo demanded, although halfway through, Rebello did seem to step it up and connect as he led the quartet of men.
The corps de ballet of men, who seemed to be half jester and half jockey, and the women, who seemed to vacillate between pin-up girl and showgirl, were full of sass and energy as they executed their rapid-fire steps albeit a little raggedly.
In the final section, “Diamonds,” we experienced the white and stark classical beauty of 19th-century imperial Russia. In almost an homage to Marius Petipa, Balanchine created a grand-scale ballet to four movements from Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 3 (1875). Filled with grand pageantry and stately symmetry, it began with 10 ballerinas in soft tutus swirling to a waltz and it culminated with all 34 of the dancers coming together to slowly dance a courtly polonaise in the grand finale.
It was the first time that I have seen principal dancer Katia Carranza perform and what a pleasure it was. Carranza began her career at MCB in 1998 and she has recently rejoined the company. Partnered by Renan Cerdeiro (who every year takes a magic leap in his artistry), Carranza danced with a serene confidence and a sensitive artistry. The central pas de deux in “Diamonds” is quite reminiscent of Odette and Seigfried’s duet in Swan Lake (Tchaikovsky wrote the score for Swan Lake around the same time he wrote his Third Symphony).
Carranza and Cerdeiro began far apart and slowly wove their delicately controlled walking patterns into their beautifully partnered pas de deux. Their careful and understated build gave depth and a mature richness to their duet. Cerdeiro’s manège was elegant and seemingly effortless as he circled the stage.
I was impressed with what I saw onstage that Saturday night but I also was impressed with something I saw in the program. For the first time, I saw the full casting for all the performances of the program at the Kravis Center printed in the playbill. In the past, I always received a paper insert with the cast for just that particular performance.
I found it remarkable that nearly every principal role in every cast of Jewels was a role debut for that dancer. In addition, there were so many different configurations in the casting planned for the Kravis performances. My initial response was what an enormous undertaking not to mention what a big expense and major scheduling issue this must have been both in the studio and in the theater. But my thoughts on this quickly transitioned to admiration as I recognized that this ballet company is clearly very serious about investing in their dancers’ full development of artistic range.
This opportunity — to expand and add new elements to one’s range as a performer — is what every dancer lives and breathes to have and it is truly one of the more subtle but essential tasks that an artistic director needs to sense and cultivate. Undoubtedly, artistic director Lourdes Lopez values this and breeds this kind of environment; indeed, MCB is looking exceptional under her discerning and polished vision.