New York City Ballet
Saratoga Performing Arts Center
Saratoga Springs, NY
July 18, 2007

by Tom Phillips
copyright © 2007 by Tom Phillips

Dusk was just gathering in the forest around the open-air theater at Saratoga, when the curtain went up on the verdant array that begins “Emeralds.” The effect was of a jewel set in nature, drawing a lengthy ooooh from the audience at the old spa. New York City Ballet doesn’t seem to have bothered working out a repertory for Saratoga, simply recycling programs and casts from its spring season in New York.  But there are always moments like this, confluences of nature and art, that make an outdoor season worth the trip.

The country air seems to have refreshed the dancers, too. “Jewels” on Wednesday had a sharp edge to it, with none of the usual air of distraction in the corps.  Everybody was there to dance. Ashley Bouder was her usual steely self in the first ballerina part of “Emeralds,” serving as an enlightening contrast to her opposite number, Jenifer Ringer. Ringer doesn’t have the facility of Bouder, but she has something more important for “Emeralds:” warmth and radiance, a meditative pleasure in her steps. Still, the greatest pleasure of this opening act was the pas de trois, with Sean Suozzi squiring the light and brilliant Alina Dronova on one arm, and the lush and lively Ana Sophia Scheller on the other. Scheller has everything “Emeralds” needs: elevation, extension, balance, weight, thrust, but most of all, a quiet joy. 

Night fell just in time for “Rubies,” a spectacle of red on black. Teresa Reichlen has put her stamp on this piece in the second ballerina part, dominating the scene with her vertical splits and radical twists. Damian Woetzel and Yvonne Borree romped more demurely, at least until Woetzel’s final exit, when his accelerating whirls recalled the madness of Edward Villella in the 1967 original. He was egged on by a high-stepping racing team of Austin Laurent, Allen Peiffer, Aaron Severini and Giovanni Villalobos.

The best was last. Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard outdid themselves in the “Diamonds” pas de deux, bringing to it an urgency and rapture that I didn’t remember from their New York performance. The program notes that Tchaikovsky  composed the music in 1875, just before starting to write “Swan Lake.”  For the first time, I saw in Kowroski’s gently shuddering upper body, in her alarmed face, a hint of the other-worldly haunts that were to emerge by that enchanted lake. When Askegard knelt to kiss her hand at the end, it was no courtier’s kiss, but homage to a supernatural creature.  

Once again “Diamonds” was set off by highly engaged dancing in the corps, especially the lead quartet of Saskia Beskow, Amanda Hankes, Megan LeCrone and Gwyneth Muller. LeCrone kicked off the Polonaise with precise and delicate footwork. And Hankes caught the eye again and again with her supple musicality. 

I must confess that “Jewels” left me cold when I first saw it in 1967, but now it gets grander with each viewing. Seeing it in the wild only underscores the irrelevance of the jewelry-store gimmick, and reveals Balanchine’s true subject: style style style. 

Maria Korowski, here with Philip Neal, in "Diamons." Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Volume 5, No. 29
July 23, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Tom Phillips

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