RUBIES TO SPARKLE AT MIAMI CITY BALLET’S CELEBRATION OF BALANCHINE
This year marks the Centennial of the birth of George Balanchine, the world-renowned master choreographer. To celebrate this notable date, Miami City Ballet, whose repertoire contains many of the most famous Balanchine ballets, is touring a special program featuring the some of Balanchines seminal choreographic works. For the company’s appearance at the Fine Arts Center Concert Hall on April 20th, the program will feature two company premieres Ballo della Regina and Stravinsky Violin Concerto as well as “Rubies” from Balanchine’s full-length ballet Jewels>.
“This program is very special to me as Balanchine was my mentor and heavily influenced the manner and style of Miami City Ballet. We are excited and proud to present this world-celebrated event,” said Edward Villella, the company’s artistic director. Villella's vision and style for the Company is based on the techniques established by choreographer George Balanchine.
The Balanchine Centennial Celebration will show Ballo della Regina, a ballet choreographed in 1978 for Merrill Ashley, then a principal dancer with New York City Ballet, to show off her dynamic technical skills. Ashley worked with Miami City Ballet dancers to stage Ballo della Regina for the Company. Set to music from Don Carlos by Verdi, the ballet makes reference to a tale of a fisherman’s search for the perfect pearl. Stravinsky Violin Concerto, the second Company Premiere on the program, was choreographed by Balanchine for the Stravinsky Festival in 1972. Bart Cook and Maria Calegari, also former principal dancers with New York City Ballet under Balanchine, staged the ballet for Miami City Ballet.
Jewels premiered on April 13, 1967 to rave reviews and a bit of confusion. What had been billed as the first full-length abstract ballet was actually three separate ballets, to music by three different composers, joined loosely by a suggestion of gemstones. In fact, the ballet went officially untitled at the premiere. The evening's working title, which consisted of acts named Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds, was The Jewels.
According to critic Clive Barnes, the idea for a ballet based on gems is credited to jeweler Claude Arpels, although it is well documented that Balanchine had already toyed with using jewel-inspired costumes for his 1947 ballet Le Palais de Cristal. For his new ballet, Balanchine chose to focus on the beauty of the finished stones, with their color and brilliance reflected in the shining technique of his dancers and the costumes they wore. He shared Arpels' love for the polished gemstones. "Of course I have always liked jewels," he said "after all, I am an oriental, from Georgia in the Caucasus. I like the color of gems, the beauty of stone."
Balanchine insisted in one interview that the ballet was not actually about "jewels." 'The ballet has nothing to do with jewels," he said. "The dancers are just dressed like jewels." And dressed they were, in sumptuous creations by Balanchine's long-time collaborator Barbara Karinska. She created a distinct look for each act that corresponded to Balanchine choreographic inspiration: romantic, calf-length tulle skirts for Emeralds, material that flared at the hips of both men and women in Rubies, and the flat, classical tutu of the Imperial Russian Ballet for Diamonds. The costumes were such finely crafted pieces of art in their own right that some of them have been exhibited, sans dancer, in museums and in theater lobbies. Even Arpels was impressed with her attention to finding the finest trim that would accurately represent the true glitter of genuine gemstones. Additionally, Karinska's painstaking work is credited with making the costumes last despite the sweat and strain of dancing in them. Her designs, needlework and choice in fabrics made them both durable and danceable, illustrating that the bodies inside the costumes were deserving of her utmost respect. When questioned about her attention to her almost extravagant detail she replied, "'I sew for girls and boys who make my costumes dance; their bodies deserve my clothes.'"
So, what is the ballet about? Rather than being about any one thing in particular, the ballet, in each of its three parts, evokes a different mood and transports audiences to different point on ballet's historical timeline. It is said that Jewels makes a passably good tutorial on the many styles of Balanchine, showing the audience the depth and breadth of his choreographic work.
While Emeralds evokes nineteenth century France, and Diamonds represents Balanchine's trip back to the Imperial Russian Ballet,Rubies jumps ahead to the jazz age in America when hips were looser and skirts were shorter. Edward Villella, who danced the principal male role in the original cast also draws parallels to "Astaire, … and show dancing, the brashness and confidence of Broadway nightclubs." For Balanchine though, it was "simply Stravinsky's music."
For this section of Jewels, Balanchine chose Igor Stravinsky's 1929 composition Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra, which he wrote while still actively performing as a concert pianist. The piece evokes the complex rhythms found in American jazz as well as the tonal experiments of twentieth-century avant-garde composers. Balanchine had been using Stravinsky's music since he was a young choreographer, newly hired by Serge Diaghilev to create work for his company, The Ballets Russes. The two men came to admire each other's work and continued their artistic collaboration throughout their careers.
Dance writers talk about Rubies as if it was Balanchine's love letter to America with its high-energy rhythms and unexpected twists and turns. The choreography almost goes out of its way to confound all expectations, using flexed feet, jutting hips, angular shapes and non-stop movement. The dancers prance like horses, chase each other like children, flirt, and capture each other in flashes of possibility. All of this is accomplished with a sense of humor credited to Balanchine's ability to layer emotionless gesture with unconventional classicism.
Rubies was choreographed for a lead couple and a solo female who each take turns leading a corps of men and women. The variation for the female dancer includes a moment when the men surround her on the stage, almost as if they are all vying for her attention. At a different point in the section, these same men chase the lead man prompting several writers and dancer to make a connection to horses and children. Their physical drive is unmatched yet they maintain an air of playfulness that softens the edge of competition. The pas de deux is non-stop action and energy with dancers driving each other as the music drives them. Legs slice the air and torsos twitch and change directions as the entire stage is lit with sparks.
Don’t miss this memorable performance. Miami City Ballet performs on Tuesday, April 20th at 7:30pm in the Concert Hall. For tickets call 413-545-2511 or 1-800-999-UMAS or go online to fineartscenter.com.