McCaw Hall, Seattle, WA; September 27, 2014

Dean Speer

Polishing the Family Jewels

Leta Biasucci and Jonathan Porretta in 'Rubies', part of George Balanchine’s 'Jewels'. Photo © Angela Sterling

Leta Biasucci and Jonathan Porretta in ‘Rubies’, part of George Balanchine’s ‘Jewels’.
Photo © Angela Sterling

Showing the ‘family’ of “Jewels” – emeralds, rubies, and diamonds – this past weekend, Pacific Northwest Ballet invited and was able to bring in for coaching, many of originators of principal parts of Balanchine’s 1967 full-length abstract ballet, set to the glorious music of Fauré, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky.

A friend and colleague – a former dancer herself – asked me if I thought the coaching made a difference. I paused and reflected, and then responded that yes, it did, even if only to bolster confidence. Of course, the benefits extend well beyond and include details of timing, nuance, ideas behind a part, backstories, phrasing, how to navigate a role, which might even sometimes include suggestions on when to take a breath – all falling under the rubric of ‘artistic’ – those elusive, hard to quantify yet easy to qualify, but necessary things.

The first section, Emeralds, is the most atmospheric and ephemeral of the troika, being based on simple movement – such as walking patterns, and use of expressive port de bras. Here, Lindsi Dec took the Mimi Paul part with Violette Verdy’s taken by Elizabeth Murphy.

Rubies – with its signature semi-circle opening pose always elicits applause – and the dancers hadn’t even moved yet. It’s also the one that’s probably the most kinetic and playful with the principal couple using a jump rope motif and the man a “hey, fellas, join me for some running” arm gestures and then the actual lifting of the collective knees, and yes, running around the stage, bemusedly.

The exotic in all of this is the part for the woman in the center and central ‘tall’ role – one that Laura Tisserand mined for its sharp attacks, deep grand pliés into equally deep and quickly shaped and controlled arabesque penché.

I recall first seeing this in its PNB premiere with Colleen Neary who both taught the ballet and starred in it in 1988. Neary was a hot, hot, hot sizzling performer and it’s hard not to compare.

Equally hot is the piano part played by Allan Dameron.

This time, however, powerhouse Leta Biasucci took the Patricia McBride part and her broad and sincere smile, coupled with her already prodigious technique – partnered by Jonathan Porretta, himself now famous in this part and an electric performer – gelled a terrific performance. Together with Tisserand and the corps, they made this section exciting and fun.

Some might describe diamonds as having the most market value and here “Diamonds” does shine with multiple facets and lots of carets. Leslie Rausch was at once both elegant and super quick, taking the iconic little pattern of piqué turns into lovely arabesque with head and arm up to the flies is so classically elegant yet looks contemporary and free. Rausch was more than ably partnered and presented by the excellent and very clean with all of his movement, Jerome Tisserand.

“Jewels” was accompanied by the mighty PNB Orchestra, again under the baton of its very able and experienced maestro, Emil de Cou.