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Review 2, 4-10: Gems
Diana, Maffre, Solomakha Glisten in SF Ballet "Jewels"
(Editor's note: The
following is part of the Dance Insider's ongoing year-long celebration
leading up to next year's Balanchine centennial.)
By Aimee Tsao
Copyright 2003 Aimee Tsao
SAN FRANCISCO -- George
Balanchine's "Jewels," his only evening-length abstract ballet,
premiered in 1967 to great acclaim. Until recently only a small
handful of companies were allowed to perform it, although the middle
section, "Rubies" had found its way into many a company's repertoire
(San Francisco Ballet has performed it since 1987). San Francisco
Ballet first performed the entire ballet last season, and Tuesday
night I returned to the War Memorial Opera House to see how it is
doing since I saw it last year.
The opening "Emeralds"
is easily the most difficult section to do well. The dreamy Faure
score, from "Pelleas and Melisande" and "Shylock," casts a mesmerizing
spell that is quickly shattered by any movement less than ethereal.
The SFB corps de ballet here is ragged, marring the ornate frame
it is supposed to be creating around the soloists. And both lead
ballerinas, Yuan Yuan Tan and Katita Waldo, dance inconsistently,
at times using their arms fluidly, then suddenly with an odd angularity,
or abandoning themselves to the movement with sweeping musicality,
only to retreat into merely doing the steps. Damian Smith, who has
been one of my favorite dancers since he started with the company,
as Tan's partner, is not his usual elegant self and seems almost
distant. But then again, last year he was dancing with the incomparable
Joanna Berman in the same piece. When Miami City Ballet performed
"Jewels" in 1999 at Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall, it fared much better
in terms of maintaining the style throughout, even though the precision
lacked the necessary inner musicality. MCB's Deanna Seay was the
only dancer who understood how to use the music on a higher level
and created the illusion of gliding and floating during the "walking"
pas de deux, where the ballerina walks on pointe without coming
down. Waldo could use some advice on how to defy gravity. The pas
de trois dancers are a real pleasure. Amanda Schull, and particularly
Elizabeth Miner, dance with warmth and grace, while Hansuke Yamamoto
performs with a disarming naturalness.
for Piano and Orchestra" sets the tone for the next section, "Rubies,"
with its jazzy syncopation. Vanessa Zahorian and Gonzalo Garcia,
excellent in technique and nuance, have a strong rapport with each
other but could turn up the thermostat and smolder with a more heated
sexual tension. Muriel Maffre is exquisite, as in everything else
I have seen her in this year. (See my
Flash Review of "Damned," and her Mercedes in "Don Quixote"
was brilliant.) Maffre owns this role, not through cute sexiness,
as is often the case, but by exuding such power and authority that
you submit to her mastery of the sensual. The corps de ballet also
delivers a tighter and more focused performance than in "Emeralds."
I am beginning to enjoy this.
In the closing "Diamonds,"
the purest of gems, the corps de ballet is good, though a bit stiff
as I think they confuse classical with academic, but Julie Diana
and Vadim Solomakha are the absolute peak of the evening. The music
from Tchaikovsky's 3rd Symphony contains resonances of "Swan Lake,"
which he was writing at the same time, and Balanchine pays homage
to that classic ballet with hints of the Petipa choreography, not
only the steps for Odette and Siegfried, but also the national folk
dances in the third act. Diana is practically beyond description.
You never see her perfect technique because it is part of her seamless
interpretation. With her long graceful swan neck, her ravishing
port de bras and crystalline footwork I am transported to dance
Nirvana. Her every movement is imbued with meaning and nuance. I
long to see her perform Odette now. Solomakha is an attentive partner
and their rapport is magical, tender and loving. He dances his solos
with elegance and ease, a Prince in the best sense of the word.
How rare to see such a performance of artistic perfection, and I
hope I will be lucky enough to have the experience again soon.
SFB performs "Jewels"
with Maffre, Diana and Solomakha this Saturday at 2 p.m. in the
War Memorial Opera House.
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