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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 29, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 39
Pacific Northwest Ballet opens new season with George Balanchine's 'Jewels'
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Pacific Northwest Ballet opens new season with George Balanchine's 'Jewels'

by Sharon Cumberland - SGN A&E Writer

PACIFIC NORTHWEST BALLET
JEWELS
MARION OLIVER MCCAW HALL
Through October 1


It's very fitting that the Pacific Northwest Ballet should open its new season with a tribute to the 50th anniversary of George Balanchine's iconic ballet, 'Jewels.' Not only is Balanchine the towering figure of classical dance in America, but his hundreds of dances created for the New York City Ballet have enriched companies all over the world.

As Picasso is to painting and Einstein is to physics, so Balanchine is to the world of dance. Anniversaries like this one offer a wonderful opportunity to be thankful for the gifts of a great artist who advanced an entire genre with the first 'storyless' or abstract ballet. In 1967 Balanchine demonstrated with this bold new work that dance doesn't need to rely on story telling for its purpose or pleasures, but can be enjoyed for the fascination of dance alone - that choreography is, in itself, an art to be studied, savored, and enjoyed. According to the PNB program notes, the 50th anniversary of 'Jewels' will be observed with productions by the New York City Ballet, The Paris Opera Ballet, and the Bolshoi Ballet, but none will be as beautiful, I'm willing to bet, as the production that had its opening night last Friday at McCaw Hall. New sets, new costumes, a great company of dancers, and a timeless dance - what could be better? Answer: Nothing. It was brilliant.

As part of PNB's homage to a great ballet by a great choreographer, Director Peter Boal hired designer Jerome Kaplan to reimagine the famous Karinska costumes that are so closely associated with each 'jewel' - emeralds, rubies, and diamonds. Balanchine himself said that the theme of jewels has no metaphorical or narrative meaning - as he reported to dance critic Nancy Ryan in 1977: 'The ballet had nothing to do with jewels. The dancers are just dressed like jewels.' All the more reason, then, to make sure the splendor of the costumes matched the inventive delights of the dances themselves.

Since each jewel in the program is created with a different composer's music, the costumes need to reflect the mood of each piece. Karinska's costumes for 'Emeralds' are fluffy and floating tea-length tulle to suite Faure's dreamy music, so Kaplan needed to introduce new insights without losing that airy quality. He solved the problem not only by having thousands of crystals sewn into the costumes, but by layering the tulle with more subtle colors. Where Karinska overlaid her green tulle with cream colors, Kaplan overlays his green with black tulle, making a three-dimensional effect that is both deep and unexpected, as if Faure's dreams have slight edge to them. Kaplan found similar variations for 'Rubies' and 'Diamonds' - all with new tiaras worthy of Czarinas - that flash and sparkle as the dancers turn. The men are just as well off, with tightly-fitted tunics that match the lines of the women's bustiers. Dancers always look like ideal human beings, but in Kaplan's 'Jewels' they look like ideal human beings in a spectacularly ideal world.

'Emeralds'
Music: Gabriel Fauré from Pelléas at Mélisande and Shylock

This lovely, floating dance was made even more charming for PNB regulars because of the return of principal dancer Lucien Postlewaite from Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo and to his former dance partner Noelini Pantastico - a delightful and welcome reunion. The central dancers are surrounded by a group of ten ballerinas who form a line that waves in, out, and around the principals like flowers on the surface of a spring-fed pond. As each movement flows sweetly into the next - now a trio, now a second couple, now a solo dancer waving her arms like a mermaid, now the whole group flowing in and out together - the audience is drawn into a tranquil world of pure beauty and peace.

'Rubies'
Music: Igor Stravinsky, Capriccio

After a brief pause, the audience is knocked out of its 'Emeralds' reverie by the dramatic, cheerfully ironic and sexy 'Rubies' with its bright-red costumes and angular choreography. The central couple, danced here by Rachel Foster and Benjamin Griffiths, engage in a playful flirtation to Stravinsky's jazzy piano followed by a gang of boys whose cat-and-mouse moves with a single woman (the dramatic Lindsi Dec) always makes me think of a dominatrix with her troop of adoring slaves. Kaplan's costumes for the men in this sequence are particularly successful, taking away Karinska's poofy Renaissance sleeves and giving them military-style close-fitting jackets that enhance the ambiguity of their power and submissiveness. The black backdrop was equally effective in popping the dance forward and focusing the eye. There's a reason why this section of the ballet is the most excerpted and performed all over the world - it's a knockout!

'Diamonds'
Music: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 3 in D major

I confess that this section has always been my favorite. Tchaikovsky's music is gorgeous, and the dance is a tribute to the most classical elements of Russian choreography at its most inventive. Balanchine shows us his greatest skill, which is the movement across the stage of any configuration of dance force - solo dancers, couples, trios, quartets, quintets, septets - all the way up to thirty-four dancers moving in and out and around each other in combinations as complex as a Rubik's cube. The sheer pleasure of inventiveness is intensified by the dancers' elegance as they move like a floating army into configurations that melt into one another at a slow enough pace that you can see and appreciate them before they re-form into another shape. This is the dance, in my opinion, that really sells the idea that choreography at its best never needs a story - it's a story in itself, just like astronomy or botany is a story. At its best it is organic and ever-evolving - and Balanchine showed this quality to the world in 'Diamonds'. The central couple, danced elegantly by Lesley Rausch and Karel Cruz, form the point around which the entire company moves, like a galaxy of stars around a double sun. I only wish Kaplan had not set this wonderful dance on a gray stage with a huge, empty frame that dwarfs the dancers and pulls the eye away from the company and up into an empty picture. Why, I wonder, would anyone put diamonds into a gray box? Go into any jewelry store - diamonds are displayed on white with bright lights to make them sparkle. I was a little frustrated that the set was so distracting and diminishing. On the You Tube preview, the model was cream colored with a gold frame - I wish it had stayed that way. But hey - it's a small thing compared to the greatness of the dance and its execution by a brilliant group of dancers. Nothing can diminish their precision and commitment to showing Seattle audiences the best that dance has to offer. Bravi tutti - it was a great opening night!

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Seattle Men's Chorus & Seattle Women's Chorus create harmony in a noisy world with their 2017-2018 Season
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October openings are full of brand-new plays
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Pacific Northwest Ballet opens new season with George Balanchine's 'Jewels'
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Forward Flux Productions presents two new one-act plays
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Fashion Week at The Bellevue Collection
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Tutta Bella takes first place again this year in GSBA's 'Taste of Svedka' cocktail competition
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Janet Jackson returns to impressive form with exciting Key Arena show
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TWIST: Seattle Queer Film Festival launches October 12
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Crowd-pleasing Battle of the Sexes wins in straight sets
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Overeager Friend Request needs to be deleted
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