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Miami City Ballet in "Jewels"
Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, September 24, 1999

by Azlan Ezaddin

It is difficult to write about the performance of a ballet that many know so well, especially one with so many technical qualities. At times there seems to be as many opinions of Jewels as there are dancers cast in the ballet. Indeed, for this series of performances, it seemed my friends saw two different companies. One thought the Corps was not entirely in proper synchronization and alignment while another was more impressed by the Corps than the principals. One thing can be said though that, no matter what the opinion, this dazzling performance of Jewels was a treat to Bay Area fans for this was the Bay Area premiere of all three acts, Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds, performed as a whole in one program.

Seeing the three acts together makes the traits of each one more appreciable as contrasts between the different styles can be more easily recognized. The elegant Emeralds, danced to Faure and ending in melancholy with the male principals reaching to the sky with outstretched arms from kneeling positions, is the basis upon which the other two ballets are contrasted. The sassy Rubies, with its hip-jutting prances to a jazzy Stravinsky, turns the heat up and then finally Diamonds with the aid of Tchaikovsky’s grandiose score brings order back with its precision. This is all familiar territory to Balanchine fans but there are qualities in this production by Miami City Ballet that made it seem fresh to me.

The biggest clue perhaps lies in the fact that Miami’s Artistic Director, Edward Villella, relished in the creation of the male lead in Rubies during his glory days at New York City Ballet. No doubt he had a strong influence in this production of Rubies, which was flirtatious, energetic, and fun to watch, with both Jennifer Kronenberg and Sally Ann Isaacks excelling at playing the foxy women. Kronenberg was especially alluring with her teasing glances at her partner, Arnold Quintaine. Quintaine, a late replacement for Eric Quilliere, was superb technically in the difficult male lead role, with its demanding athleticism. However, he lacked the spunk and spontaneity that I would normally expect in this capriccio role, giving the pas de deux segments a lop-sided feel with Kronenberg seeming to do more of the flirting. Perhaps however I’m biased, having seen other Rubies leading men, such as NYCB’s Damian Woetzel wooing Miranda Weese with his stylish body language and San Francisco Ballet’s Stephen Legate teasing real-life wife Evelyn Cisneros with his mischievous expressions. Nevertheless the saucy and spirited dancing by both the principals and the corps made this performance of Rubies the most electrifying I’ve seen.

The passion in Rubies carried over somewhat into Diamonds. Once again, it’s difficult to pinpoint what about this performance that made it different from the NYCB versions I’ve seen. I suspect however that Villella has applied some of the sentimentality in Rubies to Diamonds. In two recent NYCB performances of Diamonds, both Kyra Nichols and Wendy Whelan were magnificent goddesses of dance with their gorgeous lines and their ethereal but icy projection of grandeur, taking their cue perhaps from videotapes of originator Suzanne Farrell. Miami City Ballet’s Iliana Lopez, while also displaying gorgeous lines, seemed however to bring more human compassion to the role, in contrast to the NYCB dancers. There were instances for example when she glanced and smiled, somewhat demurely, at her partner, Franklin Gamero. Her movements, including some magical bourrees across the stage, also appeared softer as opposed to the rigid formality that is normally associated with the majestic Diamonds princess. Lopez must have felt fortunate to have been assigned a fine supporting cast of Gamero, who was excellent as the partner who successfully showed her off without taking the limelight away from her, and the massive corps of 32 dancers, that – other than the occasional odd limb out of place – sparkled in the grand closing segment, bringing a roar of approval from the audience.

While the audience showed its approval of the bravura in Rubies and the grandeur in Diamonds, its appreciation of Emeralds was a little more tepid, which is not surprising, given the melancholic quality of this first act of the trilogy. The elegance and languor of this piece was of course unmistakable. However, there seemed a certain sense of comfort between the primary principal leads, Mary Carmen Catoya and Julien Ringdahl, that invoked less an image of two elegant courtiers than of two affectionate lovers. And as with Lopez in Diamonds, there were also slight nuances in Carmen Catoya’s expressions that suggested a hint of the free-spirited passion of Rubies. Her gracious turns and longing gaze reminded me not of Helene Alexopoulos in the same role in NYCB’s production of Emeralds but, instead, of NYCB’s dark-eyed Jenifer Ringer as the fallen girl in Serenade. While the principals – including Deanna Seay and Douglas Gawriljuk as the other pas de deux couple and Paige Fulleton, Jared Redick and Callye Robinson in the pas de trois – excelled, the corps here suffered slightly, which is surprising considering the precision of the corps in Diamonds. With a grand roster of 53 dancers, perhaps Villella stacked his more experienced dancers in favor of Diamonds. Even so, this was a performance of Emeralds that in some ways excelled in comparison to NYCB’s.

Of course, the fine dancing of the evening would be for naught if not for the excellent musicianship of the orchestra, comprised of members of the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra. Directed by world famous maestro Kent Nagano, also Principal Guest Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the Lyon Opera, this orchestra must be the Bay Area’s best-kept secret.

From what I’ve written here, it may seem that the women of Miami City Ballet have more powerful onstage personalities than the men. The truth however is that Jewels was created by Balanchine to showcase his female muses and as such the men were delegated to support roles. Perhaps in its next trip to the Bay Area, this company can bring pieces that will showcase its men. It will be sheer ignorance on the part of the organizers, Cal Performances, if they did not bring Miami City Ballet back on a regular basis.


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