Janie Taylor and Benjamin Millepied in “Rubies.” All photos are by Paul Kolnik.

Sterling Hyltin and Gonzalo Garcia in “Rubies.”

Jonathan Stafford and Sara Mearns in “Diamonds.”

Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard and cast in “Diamonds.”

Abi Stafford and Jason Fowler in “Emeralds.”

So New York City Ballet ended its Winter season with Balanchine’s Jewels, his three-act abstract ballet in homage to three different styles of classical ballet: “Emeralds” set to Gabriel Faure in honor of the French style; “Rubies” set to Stravinsky in honor of the American jazzy / showgirl-y style; and “Diamonds” set to Romantic Tchaikovsky and in the imperial, celebratory Russian style.

“Diamonds” has long been my favorite part, but the more I see of the full-length ballet (“Rubies” is often performed apart from the rest, in mixed rep programs), the other two are growing on me, particularly “Emeralds” with its complex patterns, its subtlety and nuance. And of course I like “Rubies” because I think, through this part of the ballet, new audiences unfamiliar with Balanchine can best see how he created a certain kind of “Americanized” ballet for his adopted country.

There were several debuts in the various roles: Janie Taylor and Gonzalo Garcia in “Rubies,” and I think Sterling Hyltin in “Rubies” as well (it was my first time seeing her anyway). Janie was an absolute blast to watch. She doesn’t really have the proper hips for this heavily hip-jutting, hip-swaying role — she’s so tiny and waify — but she was putting everything she had into it, taking every single movement, every jump and stretch and supported penchee and pose as far as it could possibly go and you just couldn’t take your eyes off her. It was the best performance of that part that I’ve seen since Ashley Bouder debuted in it a couple years ago. What was also so stunning about Janie’s performance was her commitment to perfecting every little detail in making a certain shape — it reminded me of her absolutely captivating performance as the Novice in Robbins’ The Cage. Except this wasn’t a creepy male-devouring insect, but a fun flirty showgirl. And yet there was a certain darkness to it — I think there always is with her (Alastair Macaulay has noted the same), but that darkness somehow worked here. She made the role her own, which is what a great interpretive artist must always do.

Janie Taylor danced with Benjamin Millepied, who was very good as well — the most animated I’ve seen him lately, actually. Maybe Natalie Portman was in the audience? I didn’t see her though.

When Gonzalo debuted he danced with Sterling. Of course I always love Gonzalo and, as always, he was very animated and dramatic, making a little story out of every little interaction with Sterling. Which is what I always love about him and what I find so engaging. They did have a few kinks to work through though – -sometimes it seemed like they’d nearly missed hands in connecting, like they weren’t completely in sync with each other. But that was only physical and was likely something you might have only caught if you were sitting up close (as I was). Emotionally they connected perfectly — which to me is more important — unless of course a physical mis-connection results in a fall or something. Hyltin does have the hips for this role and she seemed like she was having a lot of fun with it too. She was really stunning.

Of course I loved Sara Mearns in “Diamonds,” which I knew I would. This was my first time seeing her in the role and she was perfect. It was just like Swan Lake all over again. Sir Alastair in his end of the season review calls her the best ballerina in NYCB and perhaps all of New York and I generally agree, especially regarding her adagio. I guess the perfect ballerina would be someone with her or Veronika Part’s adagio technique and Gillian Murphy or Paloma Herrera’s allegro — I would have preferred for Mearns, for example, to be a tiny bit more seductive with the fouettes in the SL Black Swan pdd — but I don’t know if that ballerina exists today. I don’t know if she’s existed ever. Maybe Gelsey Kirkland? I don’t know, I never saw her dance live, but judging by what I hear from those who did, and from my own video-watching, she seems to have had everything…

Anyway, “Emeralds”: I liked Abi Stafford in the solo; I liked her port de bras — very beautiful arms, very well-articulated gesturing. Her performance was sweet. I also liked Jenifer Ringer as the second girl who does what I call “the courtship walk” with the male dancer. Her performance was full of subtlety and charm; I sensed a kind of  sweet shyness as she tip-toed en pointe along with the boy, first going in his direction, then kind of changing direction and walking around him in circles, making him kind of follow her.

At my final performance of the season, I sat next to James Wolcott and Laura Jacobs, who introduced me to several Ballet Review people. Ballet Review seems like such an excellent publication and it’s really too bad the articles aren’t available online because Jacobs has a very interesting scholarly piece on this ballet, arguing that it’s more about Balanchine’s love of Suzanne Farrell than anything else. If you can get your hands on it, I highly recommend that article!

One Comment

  1. “Emeralds” is my favorite, particularly for the reasons you mentioned. It's so heart-tugging somehow, even (and probably because) of its subtlety. I love love love it. A Bay area blogger called Emeralds “Mark Morris”-like – I thought that was an interesting description (not sure if I even completely agree, but I get what he's trying to say). Too bad “Emeralds” is the movement that's least performed, especially on its own.

    I've found that “Rubies” is a lot of people's favorites especially when they first see it. I think it was mine at the very beginning when I first saw it, for its flash and jazziness. Janie Taylor looks like an amazing Rubies soloist. I'm curious about Sarah Mearns in Diamonds as well!

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