A recently refurbished production of George Balanchine’s “Jewels” has the ballet world all atwitter. Originally a trio of dances performed on a sparse set washed in green, red and white to suggest diadems of emeralds, rubies and diamonds, the piece now lives up to its title. Atmospherically, that is. “Jewels” has always been a gem in the classical ballet idiom. Celebrating his centenary, the New York City Ballet is presenting an all Balanchine program through Monday night at the Kennedy Center.
To appreciate the sophistication of Balanchine’s choreography, it is necessary to break the work down into its three mutually exclusive acts, which serve as object lessons on how to define and expand the intricate techniques that were his wont. “Emeralds” starts things off by delineating the importance of having depth in the corps. Like a game of follow-the-leader, the women file across the stage, occasionally linking arms, making figure eights as they fold out from under each other’s limbs. Despite capitalizing on the pantomime aspects of dance, the ensemble is granted the opportunity to feature specific characterizations. It gives personality to the piece and provides the male dancer with a generous amount of time center stage.
“Rubies” is the crowd pleasing second act featuring a score by Igor Stravinsky. A sexy, angular series of twists and bends that puts both female soloists through near-geometric movements, it could be described as the evening’s thrilling climax before the final romantic denouement. The set-a black landscape with red beading sewn into it-gets almost as much applause as the dancing itself.
But the sweeping finale, “Diamonds,” is studded with a familiar (but not predictable) pas de deux that will leave audiences pining for a little emotional connection more than satisfied. Placed against an ice blue backdrop, the sparkling costumes evoke the air of regality, while the principals warm things up with emotive physicality as well as body language. A softness, which can be mistaken for detachment, imbues the partnering, which is underscored by the mist of Balanchine’s aesthetics and Tchaikovsky’s opulent music.
Among those who gleam atop City Ballet’s diadem is principal dancer Maria Kowroski, one of the country’s top ballerinas and recipient of the prestigious Princess Grace award. Ms. Kowroski, a luminous performer who when en pointe stands six feet tall, commands the stage with athleticism, sexiness and, yes, grace. In a recent Hatchet interview, she spoke candidly about her career with the City Ballet.
“I was really nave when I was at the School of American Ballet,” said Kowroski. “I came from a small town, and I was the best in my school, and when I came to the SAB, I felt like I was the worst one. When I got my apprenticeship, I thought ‘maybe they’re making a mistake!’ but I’m my own worst critic, so I guess they saw something in me that I didn’t.”
She went on to discuss the difficulties-beyond the rigors of the job- of being a dancer.
“I noticed that my friends became less and less. That’s difficult. Your true friends will remain so. It’s a life lesson. There are people who don’t want what’s best for you. It’s a hard world, when you go into (ballet) you have to take all that with it. You know, I never had glass in the pointe shoes, but people will talk about you, and you just sort of have to tune it out. It makes you strong very fast.”
Of course, there are awesome pleasures to be taken in dancing for a premier company.
“Being in New York City Ballet, we have the best ballets in the world to dance” said Kowroski. “They’re so natural and very well thought out, so musical. They feel wonderful to dance. I find that this day and age it’s hard to find a choreographer who does that or uses you to your capabilities. Some choreographers may utilize your flexibility, or your dramatic essence, but may not culture your full potential as a dancer. Balanchine recognized the differences and used them to open up and expand on the your abilities.”
“‘Jewels’ may be my favorite ballet I’ve ever been in. It’s incredibly satisfying; you feel imperial, the music is just overwhelming. There’s something about it that makes me feel so good when I’m done. Even though there are certain moments that can be very awkward, I still feel wonderful every time I experience it.”
Artistic director Peter Martins has assembled a company of wunderkinds whose astonishing depth and reciprocated consistency make City Ballet the preeminent American dance ensemble in force today. The magical triad of Maria Kowroski, dancing George Balanchine, overseen by Peter Martins, should provide audiences with a heart-racing conclusion to the parade of ballet troupes that have festooned the Opera House stage this season.
The Kennedy Centers NYC Ballet will be performing:
March 3 and 6 evenings: Serenade, Apollo, and Symphony in C.
March 4 evening and 6 matinee: Concerto Barocco, Prodigal Son, and Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2
March 5 evening and 7 matinee & evening: Jewels
This article appeared in the March 4, 2004 issue of the Hatchet.