While George Balanchine may have died in 1983, his legacy has only strengthened as the years have passed. One of the greatest choreographers to have ever lived, he has remained the father of American ballet cofounding the School of American Ballet and the New York City Ballet (NYCB). “Jewels” is a ballet which celebrates his iconic status and pays tribute to this heterogeneous genius. Balanchine trained as a dancer at the Mariinsky Theatre in his birthplace of Saint Petersburg, Russia; had an artistic breakthrough when he departed for Paris in 1924 and was appointed choreographer of Ballet Russes; and, finally settled in America in 1933 to found his two famous ballet companies.
How seamless it was that the three greatest ballet companies in the world-Bolshoi, New York City Ballet and Paris Opera Ballet-joined forces on this Thursday evening July 20th to dance the monumental ballet “Jewels” in a historically unprecedented night as part of the Lincoln Center Festival being held from July 10-30. This Russian-American collaboration did not appear on CNN’s Breaking News; however, it was no less noteworthy as these countries got together to stage one of the most exhilarating nights I have experienced to pay homage to the world renowned Balanchine. Many Ballet enthusiasts commented they could feel Balanchine in the room and Creative Director of NYCB Peter Martins who danced this piece in 1968 under Balanchine’s tutelage told me he was feeling extremely nostalgic.
There were others who felt similarly wistful as indicated by the sold-out tickets with decent seats starting in the $450 range and a pre-dinner held which cost $2,500 per person. This was an evening for ballet lovers many of whom paid a $1,000 fee to join the Producer’s circle so a premium seat could be bought. Expectations were high and there were those who flew in from France, Russia and elsewhere to experience this once-in-a-lifetime event. “Jewels” which premiered April 13, 1967 in this theater, now called the David Koch theater, at Lincoln Center was inspired by Balanchine’s visit to Van Cleef & Arpels where he posed for pictures with ballerinas wearing gem-encrusted tiaras.
“Jewels” is a plotless ballet where the audience’s interest must be sustained without the assistance of a storyline. Tonight, the three dance companies had no trouble holding the audience’s attention especially with the varied styles with which they executed the ballets. While, it would be unfair to view this as a competition, if it was I think the United States and Russia nailed it with the NYCB putting on a spectacular performance the likes of which I have rarely seen. I would bet there was an element of rivalry spurring on each company as they performed their pieces with an alacrity and enthusiasm that dazzled.
The first act entitled “Emeralds” was performed by the Paris Opera Ballet in green costumes designed by Christian Lacroix with the music of Gabriel Faure. This act was pleasantly melodious and lulled me into an anodyne state-something I wish more dance performances would do. After a lengthy intermission, the dynamic part of the evening began, with NYCB dancers clothed in red tutus wowing in the Stravinsky piece entitled “Rubies.”
Joaquin De Luz regaled the audience with his soaring jumps, replacing the formerly inimitable Edward Villella, by dancing this part with an enthusiastic ease. Megan Fairchild and Teresa Reichlen gave one of their most astonishing performances to date with Fairchild’s growing confidence placing her amongst New York City’s top dancers. Tonight I was proud to be an American but was anxiously anticipating what the Bolshoi had in store with its new director Makhar Vaziev being heralded by the press for his exacting eye.
It is safe to say the Russian’s were great and had the best costumes of the evening, designed by Elena Zaitseva. The white sequined tutus and headpieces were reminiscent of “Swan Lake” and their placement at the end of the program with over-the-top costumes gave them an unfair advantage. If CNN had been present they surely would have reported that Trump and Putin had colluded in favor of the Russians. All joking aside, the ballet entitled “Diamonds” the most precious of jewels-easily surpassing emeralds and rubies-allowed the Russians to shine bright with soloists Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin astounding the crowd.
Chudin did stationary fouette turns and pirouettes that floored the audience-the effortlessness was incredible. As the ballet concluded with a lengthy standing ovation for the Russians, guests headed to Tavern on the Green for an after-party with most of the Bolshoi, the New York City and Paris Opera Ballet dancers in attendance as well as Peter Martins, Jacque d’Amboise and Festival director Nigel Redden. Redden told me he has been working on putting this together for the past five years and this was a tribute to Balanchine who has changed the world of ballet with his fast technique and laserlike focus on the body. He also said Balanchine had a musicality that was second-to-none.
Reiterating the preeminence of Balanchine, was legendary dancer Jacque d’Amboise who first danced with Balanchine in 1942 and then joined as a lead in the production of “Jewels” 50 years ago. The most notable characteristic of Balanchine, d’Amboise told me, was “his exquisite manners.” If Balanchine was sitting at a table instead of just saying to Jacque grab a chair he would go and bring a chair to the table for him. Balanchine’s diffidence extended to the dance arena where he would politely ask Jacque if he would rather dance with Allegra Kent or Suzanne Farrell giving him the choice despite the fact that he needed Jacque for a specific partner. This side of Balanchine is scarcely known and it was riveting.
Jacque sadly recounted arriving at Roosevelt Hospital minutes after Balanchine died with doctors later discovering his life had been taken by mad cow disease. At that moment Creative Director of the Bolshoi, Makhar Vaziev, who has the demeanor of a Russian movie star, took to the microphone to thank everyone for participating. He later told me how excited he was to bring these three companies to Moscow and Paris to perform this dance tour de force for a global audience.
By: Lieba Nesis