Saturday February 27, 2010 evening - It's so nice to see (and hear) JEWELS again, even though to be honest I don't really like the current settings which make RUBIES and DIAMONDS look like tinsel. Above, Sara Mearns in EMERALDS, my favorite 'jewel' and the one which looks best in this production. It was also played with luxuriant tenderness by the orchestra under Maurice Kaplow's benevolent baton.
Abi Stafford and Jared Angle made the first duet a testimonial to the art of ballet partnering; these two dancers with their keen appreciation of the nuances of Faure score gave a wonderfully detailed and subtle performance. It's a lovely experience to sit there anticipating a familiar musical phrase and to watch Abi and Jared respond to it so perfectly. Abi's solo was immaculate.
Sara Mearns was sigh-inducing in her poetic approach and Jon Stafford was her noble and sincere cavalier. Sara seemed to enthrall the audience with her lush adagio style. The quartet of principals meshed music and movement into a hypnotic dream.
In the pas de trois, Erica Pereira concluded her premiere season as a soloist with yet another excellent performance in which her evident pleasure of being onstage transmits itself so clearly that her joy becomes ours. Robert Fairchild looked dashing here - he can easily move on to one of the principal roles in this ballet - and Ana Sophia Scheller was just splendid, giving the exit phrase of her solo a slight pause of prima ballerina glamour as she swept away. An intoxicating moment.
In RUBIES, Janie Taylor sizzled with jazzy allure and provocative, loose-limbed dancing. This is a wonderful new role for her and she and Benjamin Millepied were alternately playful and saucy as they moved thru Balanchine's combinations with a nice lightness of touch. Savannah Lowery brought a dash of Folies-Bergere showgirl hauteur to her performance as the 'other' woman.
I love Savannah's new hair colour, by the way: her new headshot by Paul Kolnik, above. The corps and the quartet of sporting boys in RUBIES were all fine.
Tonight's DIAMONDS was a special occasion as Philip Neal - celebrating his birthday - danced what would seem to be his final performance in this ballet. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen the elegant pairing of Philip with Wendy Whelan in DIAMONDS and how they always succeed in making it seem utterly fresh and alive.
Kaitlyn Gilliland and Amanda Hankes established the mood with their refined dancing in the opening movement and they were later joined by Faye Arthurs and Gwyneth Muller in the scherzo.
If it was Balanchine's idea that the ballerinas in JEWELS should embody the characteristics of the gemstones for which each movement is named, then Wendy Whelan is the Diamond-diva deluxe. It isn't just the clarity of the steps or the finesse of her port de bras and hands or even her queenly presence that make her so memorable; it is the way she absorbs the glow of the music and refracts it into the theatre in a blaze of light.
She and Philip have danced together so often that partnering is second-nature to them: so natural and smooth and with many an illuminating flourish timed perfectly to the music. In a remarkable tribute to their artistry, the audience was pin-drop silent throughout the pas de deux. As the ballet flowed toward its conclusion, I wanted the music to go on and on so Wendy and Philip could keep dancing together. The audience, sensing the significance of their performance, acclaimed the two dancers with an especially warm ovation.
All photographs: Paul Kolnik.