Although each section of Balanchine’s Jewels includes a good-sized corps de ballet who articulate his beautiful patterns of movement, it is the Pas de Deux that are perhaps most memorable. Over the course of three performances of Jewels this week (a fourth comes this afternoon) Haglund gained a sense that Emeralds is the gem that has consistently kept its closest ties with the earliest interpreters who danced it for the choreographer. It seems the least affected by the years gone by. Rubies has acquired, in some instances, similarities to the Siren in Prodigal Son or Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. Diamonds, in some cases, has fallen far from the mark of the original and flirts with caricature.
Tiler Peck with Amar Ramasar and Abi Stafford with Jared Angle shared the first couple role in Emeralds during the week. Rebecca Krohn with Ask la Cour and Ashley Laracey with Adrian Danchig-Waring shared the second couple role that includes the “walking” PdD. The poetry, atmosphere, and honest emotion created by their performances steered the audience head-on into the willing surrender to the beauty and mournfulness of Faure’s haunting melodies. So strong was the feeling of connecting to the past, so clear was the spirit of this ballet that we simply cannot be thankful enough for whatever is happening at NYCB these days to promote such artistry. With all of the ballerinas, but particularly with Abi, the viewer became entranced by the subtleties of grace and the absolute care given to articulation. At times, the ballerinas' optimism ran counter to Faure’s fatalism - who should we believe, we asked ourselves and then quickly answered, go with the ballerinas. While both Amar and Jared were admirably attentive to their partners, we must remark that we have never seen Jared give so much so honestly to his ballerina and to the music. Artistry and honesty suddenly erupted to the surface for us to see, perhaps enabled by not having to worry about whether the L5-S1 was going to survive the next lift of the ballerina. We would like to see him get a break from heavy lifting duties for the remaining time of his career so that he can give us more of what we saw this week.
Rubies received a consummate performance from Joaquin De Luz and Megan Fairchild who recalled the playfulness and wholesomeness of Villella and McBride while energizing the choreography with modern-day pistons. While we are extremely grateful that Ashley Bouder has returned to the stage and is dancing so vibrantly, we have to question some of her artistic choices in Rubies that relied on lethal aggressiveness that one expects from the Siren in Prodigal Son or in Slaughter. We don’t think the roles are interchangeable. While the throw-away style of choreography suited Ashley's partner, Andrew Veyette, his difficulty conveying anything other than a sense of taxing mechanics and drudgery spoiled the fun of Rubies. We want to see what Taylor Stanley and Harrison Coll could bring to this role.
Teresa Reichlen, on the other hand, may have no past or present equals in the role of the Tall Girl. She brilliantly walked a fine line between an approachable woman and a dangerous one. She seduced while also conveying Don’t bother waiting at the stage door for this showgirl because you don’t have a chance – unless you’ve got money. Her dynamics – the enticing footwork on the floor suddenly punctuated with the wallop of a battement to the ceiling – were as strong as those in Stravinsky’s music. She allowed her four knee-high-to-a-grasshopper suitors to have fun manipulating her long legs, but clearly, they weren’t going to get any more than that. Savannah Lowery in the same role in the other cast was "selling it” with everything she had, but conveyed that she was willingly within every man’s reach.
Teresa in the Diamonds PdD the next evening opposite Russell Janzen was simply stunning in her beauty and technical eloquence, and let us say up front that there are few ballerinas who enhance the silhouette of the Diamonds tutu more beautifully than Tess. Her cool-warm/warm-cool temperature was perfect for the role. Her elegance was understated and so very natural. In Janzen, she had the partner of her dreams. Wow, has he ever stepped up to fulfill our expectations and beyond. So noble in his bearing, so surgically accurate in his partnering, so trustworthy in his individual artistry that there is a sense that he along with Jon Stafford are the first danseurs in successive generations to inherit the role and dance it as it was originally intended. The boss is doing a good job here.
While we admire Sara Mearns' technical gifts, her impassioned mining of drama from choreography, and her sheer power, we think that she has taken Diamonds to a place where Balanchine never intended. We’re not sure where the idea came from that Diamonds was laid atop the story of Odette and Siegfried, but we’re pretty sure it’s misguided. Unfortunately, some interpret it that way instead of sticking to the noble man and somewhat reluctant woman in the grandeur of Imperial Russia discussing their possibilities. And it certainly is not about the child birthing experience. There were times this week when it seemed that Sara screamed I can’t help it; I have to push. It may have been dramatically powerful and emotionally releasing but it was not Diamonds – nor were the hyperextended elbows, stiff arms, and splayed hand positions that looked stroke-induced. This is not Diamonds. Diamonds is this. This is what Balanchine intended Diamonds to be. This is what today’s NYCB interpreters should honor.
It is somewhat disconcerting to know that a close traditional reading of Diamonds could result in the New York Times critic either ignoring it altogether or complaining about the women being "too tame, too weak, too passive" (read too beautiful, too confidently elegant, too assured in the value of their own femininity). Anyone who breathes musically like Suzanne Farrell did, is a traditional beauty like Farrell was, or has longer/more narrow limbs than the critic’s favorite ballerina risks facing a barrage of Trump-like insults if she is paired in another cast in the same role as Sara Mearns. It certainly isn’t Sara’s fault. We love her in much of the NYCB repertory and she likely knows not to take the NYT critic’s declaration of her as a Romantic ballerina seriously. There is nothing from the Romantic era in her dancing; it is all 21st Century high-pitched emotionalism that sells really well across the entertainment world.
Here is what Diamonds should be. Let’s honor it:
The H.H. Pump Bump Award, Gucci's stylish emerald green stiletto, goes to Teresa Reichlen and Jared Angle – for her Diamonds and Rubies and for his unexpected heartfelt dancing opposite Abi Stafford in Emeralds. We can't wait to see what is in store for the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Jewels next year.