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Ivana Diamond

Pacific Northwest Ballet's 'Jewels'

by Dean Speer

January 31, 2009 -- Seattle, Washington

There’s that fun joke about how if Ivana Trump split from Donald and married Neil Diamond, she’d be Ivana Diamond.  But, if she had shed Trump, then first married Bob Hope, shaken him off, and then to have married Neil, she’d be Ivana Hope Diamond.

Mr. Balanchine used to ask his students, “Which do you like better, ice cream or diamonds?” And then whichever one they chose, to have them reach their movement toward that thing. Of course responses changed over the years as students matured.

My response to Balanchine’s “Jewels” over the years has changed as well. I’m old enough to have seen the original New York City Ballet cast. I recall how impressed I was by the acres of fabric hanging from the wings for ‘Emeralds’ and it does in PNB’s rendition. I recall, too, how much I liked “Rubies.” I still like “Rubies” – which, if I can stretch the analogy a bit – is the ice cream section, yet find myself increasingly hungering after and appreciating the splendor and spectacle of the concluding piece, “Diamonds.”

The opening section of “Emeralds” is its own jeweled creature. It combines extensive use of port de bras – an “arm dance” – and patterns and steps that are very Petipa, very French.

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of “Jewels” is certainly one of the glories of its current season. Grand ballet at its finest. And the dancers were fortunate enough to have not one but two original cast members coach its dancers for the opening ballet, “Emeralds” – the effervescent Violette Verdy and the tall and elegant Mimi Paul.

Winding down her performing career, one of my favorite dancers whom I will very much miss, is Louise Nadeau who took Verdy’s part in “Emeralds.” Maria Chapman took Paul’s part. Both were exquisite. Both parts are technical yet premised on being expressive, signaled especially by Nadeau’s “arm” solo which builds into a great nugget.

“Rubies” seared with the red heat of Jodie Thomas paired with Jonathan Porretta. I now so associate the “tall girl” part with Ariana Lallone, it’s hard for me to imagine another, yet I do recall how sizzling Colleen Neary was when she staged this piece for PNB about 20 years ago. Lallone certainly has assumed the mantle on this one.

Cool is a word often used to describe “Diamonds” yet it is so right on. Carla Körbes and Stanko Milov had it just about right. People lament not being able to see the original cast member – Suzanne Farrell – in the part, saying just sentimental things such as “It’s just not the same.” Yet who expected it to be? Not all pianists play the same notes that same way and neither should dancers be expected to be carbon copies. As long as the steps, patterns, and correct intent are there, I’m a happy camper.

When the masses come on stage for the final and finale of the Polonaise, it’s truly an exciting and thrilling experience. PNB rarely looked better.


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