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Dutch National Ballet in Jewels

Posted on September 8, 2006

During the last ten years George Balanchine’s Jewels has gradually become one of the standards of the classical repertory to which any self-respecting troupe should aspire. More and more companies around the world acquire Balanchine’s 1967 plotless triptych and enchant new audiences with its evocation of precious stones subtly linked to the three dance cultures closest to the choreographer – French romanticism, American neoclassicism and the Imperial Russian Ballet.

Now, Dutch National Ballet has followed the example of San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and Hamburg Ballet – to name only the recent ones. The Amsterdam-based company boasts a repertory of no fewer than 25 Balanchine ballets and had already performed both Rubies (Capriccio) and Diamonds as individual works. The full-length production, premiered at the Muziektheater on September 8, was supervised by Patricia Neary (Rubies), Elyse Borne and Eve Lawson (Emeralds and Diamonds) from the Balanchine Trust. Costumes were faithfully recreated from the Karinska originals – the Trust purportedly disapproved of Christian Lacroix’s designs for the Paris Opéra staging – yet on the other hand Toer Van Schayk was given carte blanche for the décor, and the results here were far more disagreeable than Lacroix’s designs for Paris.

In what seems like a pointless attempt to make the ballet more contemporary as much as a regrettable lack of faith in the choreography, Van Schayk devised a huge web consisting of three elements in polished steel connected by white elastic cables extending over the stage and supposed to imitate the facets of cut gems. To make matters worse, he couldn’t resist the temptation to occasionally rearrange the web in between scenes in order to create a new shape. Even more distracting were his backdrops with different colour projections for each ballet. The vertical green and blue bands in Emeralds clashed with the austere green of the Karinska costumes, while in Rubies he applied horizontal blue and red. The dark blue at the bottom was another unfortunate decision, since it created in combination with the lighting the optical illusion that the male dancers moving in front of it had green hair. The Diamonds backdrop was kept uniform blue, but even that proved detracting from the overall white.

In a performance during the second week I found the ensemble overall well rehearsed. The corps was fine, yet a fundamental issue in staging Jewels today is the casting of the solo parts, and the Dutch National wasn’t entirely successful in facing that either.

In Emeralds (danced with Balanchine’s later 1976 coda) first soloists Ruta Jezerskyte and Cédric Ygnace caught the soft-edged, nostalgic atmosphere rather well. Entirely to their credit they didn’t approach the duet as a declaration of love, but kept a totally convincing decorum. Anna Seidl has enough maturity and experience to provide contrast in the second ballerina role, but unfortunately her hard plastique and broken lines were out of place. The promenade with Nicolas Rapaic was brusque and lacked delicacy and mystery.

Soloists Ji-Young Kim and Félipe Diaz were well matched in Rubies even if their attitude remained much too formal – but then again one might say they didn’t fall into the trap of easy exhibitionism either. Sujet Michele Jimenez is a new face in the company. Small and thus cast against type, she also lacked, as yet, the personality and strength to give the crucial second ballerina its full due.

Diamonds highlighted the company’s ballerina who is by any means in the best position to evoke the grandeur of the Russian classicism of Petipa. Larissa Lezhnina has now been dancing for 12 years with the Dutch National, but she still stands out by the qualities, which made her such a favourite among Kirov ballerinas. The intensity of her reading beautifully revealed the latent drama in choreography and music. Never emphatic in technique, yet always harmonious of form and manner, delicate of phrasing and musicality, Lezhnina also displayed grandeur and majesty in the closing polonaise. Her partner Tamás Nagy, tall and lean, was a fine cavalier, if more memorable for his partnering than for his solo dancing.

Boris Gruzin from St. Petersburg’s Maryinsky conducted a somewhat uneven Holland Symfonia. Fauré in Emeralds sounded uncharacteristically rough, with prominent brass, while Tchaikovsky in Diamonds remained rather polite.

All in all, an auspicious start for the ballet season in Amsterdam (which will include other gems like La Bayadère, in the version by Natalia Makarova), even if it is clear that these jewels need some time and polishing before they will attain their true value.

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