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New York City Ballet - Jewels

by Robert Abrams
February 12, 2004
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
140 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023

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New York City Ballet - Jewels

Robert Abrams
February 12, 2004

Jewels is a brilliant ballet that has a compelling macro-structure that may not be apparent on first glance, especially if one focuses on the dancing in each act by itself.

The dancing in each act was expertly performed. In act I, Emeralds, the dancers were supple. The set was lush and verdant. It brought to mind the kind of place one would want to relax amid the greenery with a mint julep on a languid summer day. Both the set and the dancers were bejeweled. The solos were spritely. Overall, the presentation was the personification of loveliness.

In act II, Rubies, the choreography was more contemporary and angular than in Acts I or II. The angularity was especially noticable in the dancers' hand positions. The set had a matching angularity with strong red lines. The dancing was much more energetic than in Act I. This isn't a criticism of Act I: the choreography in each act had a different tone. There was strong partnering. Act II was like a personification of glamour and swank. There was also some Oklahoma-ish movements, including cowboy type prancing, but as strange as this may sound it seemed to work. Think of attendants in ritzy uniforms in an old style movie palace showing a Western and you will sort of get the picture.

In act III, Diamonds, the choreography returned to a classical feel, but was more energetic than in act I, and in a way was also more energetic than in act II due to the use of more high-flying showcase solo sections and more athletic moves than were used in either of the first two acts. The set was a soothing blue with blinding white diamond accents suspended from the rafters and sewn onto the dancers' costumes. Being a ballroom dancer myself, I know something about how much work it is to attach sequins to an outfit, so I can say with some knowledge that the costume people deserve a standing ovation. The lead female dancer's costume had so many sequins on it that it was so iridescent, it was almost blinding. Act III personified elegance and poise. Philip Neal was a particularly strong and dependable partner in this act. He and his partner both showed off an extended line in their stretch positions. The ending of act III is best described as a constellation of dancers moving with a spectacular interweaving that only the full NYCB company can achieve.

Each act, and especially acts I and II, look like a story ballet in the tradition of Swan Lake and others due to the vaguely royal look of the costumes, but the choreography is abstract with no story other than some human interaction that is a natural extension of pure dance in the partnering sections.

Sitting in the First Ring, I had a picture postcard perfect view. No wonder the center of the First Ring are the most expensive seats in the house.

Jewels is an abstract ballet for people who like story ballets. I think it is perfectly suited to that task of helping those people in the ballet audience who prefer very traditional, classical story ballets to grow in their appreciation of NYCB's signature contemporary and pure dance ballets. I think the classical nature of the choreography in acts I and II and the magical royalist nature of the costumes in all of the acts will draw them in, setting them up to appreciate that dancing can be engrossing and compelling across a full evening length ballet even without a plot or story. Balanchine could have made act III very contemporary, along the lines of Vespro, and it would have worked just as well, but from an audience development perspective I think he made the best choice using the choreographic arc that he did use.

At the beginning of this review I wrote that the macro-structure might not be apparent on first glance. This is largely because the macro-structure of each act taken separately is not that strong, other than a build up to the finale of each act. The macro-structure becomes apparent as one looks at the pattern of the style and energeticness of the choreography across the acts. The macro-structure is emergent. As someone who is always looking for the macro-structure in a ballet, I think this is clear evidence that the choreography of Jewels is both sophisticated and masterful. For those of you who are visually inclined, Paul Kolnik's photos below encapsulate the entire ballet in three photos. For those of you who are mathematically inclined, I drew a chart that summarizes my view of this ballet's elegant choreography. (The pun is intended, since the ballet can be shown to be both visually and mathematically elegant.)

Emeralds from Jewels
Dancers: Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette
Choreography by George Balanchine
Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Rubies from Jewels
Dancers: Alexandra Ansanelli and Damian Woetzel
Choreography by George Balanchine
Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Diamonds from Jewels
Dancers: Maria Kowroski and Philip Neal
Choreography by George Balanchine
Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik

A two scale plot of Jewel's style and energeticness of choreography
Photo courtesy of Robert Abrams

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