Miami City Ballet


by Lewis Whittington

April 26-27, 2003 -- The Academy of Music, Philadelphia, PA

The magnificent chandelier in the European jewel-box interior of the refurbished Academy of Music was the perfect accessory for Edward Villella's Miami City Ballet's production of George Balanchine's "Jewels," seen in Philadelphia for the first time in its entirety. Villella's company, currently touring seven cities in the US, charged through the ambitious trilogy, in an uneven, mostly academic performance.

Things got off to a shaky start with "Emeralds," scored to Gabriel Fauré's "Pelléas and Mélisande" and "Shylock," with sloppy unison work among the corps. The distinctive green-and-white tulle ballet skirts seem to underline an air of self-consciousness that made the work's overt romanticism fall flat.

There were also forced transitions in "entwined hands" segments, worked out by the dancers in paint-by-numbers style. Fortunately, the ensemble settled down during the duets and trios. Tricia Albertson, Didier Bramaz and Callye Robinson seemed to brush through the air on Fauré's ethereal tonals, with handheld, bounding sweeps across the stage.

Mary Carmen Catoya and Carlos Guerra were heavy on some of their traveling lifts, but otherwise had great chemistry. But the riveting pas de deux by Illiana Lopez and Bruce Thornton had both the sparks and the pacing. "Emeralds" looses steam toward the end and fortunately the corps composed themselves in the last lengthy movement.

The company had no such problems with the "Rubies" section of the ballet. Balanchine's bow to American modernism is spiced with sexual candor and a satirical view of the urban elite. It was danced throughout with wit and technical flair, as always helped by the fabulous bejeweled ruby-colored costumes.

Albertson and Luis Serrano were on fire every moment in their duets that Villella created under Balanchine at the height of his physical prowess, when he was memorably partnered with Patricia McBride. His famous athleticism was obviously transferred to this pair. Albertson and Serrano executed a dynamic attack to the counterpoint pacing of Igor Stravinsky's score which was fully realized through them.

Andrea Spiridonakos was equally charismatic in her solos, her articulation of some of Balanchine's more crowded steps executed with stunning clarity. The hard-angle poses, pelvic thrusts, and the asymmetry of Balanchine's jazzy style by the rest of the dancers didn't look dated at all under Villella's direction.

The last in the trilogy, "Diamonds," opens with an arcing line of women, costumed in stiff-bodiced eggshell tutus. Peter Illich Tchaikovsky's stately "Symphony No. 3" begins with staid, even ponderous motifs as Balanchine's opening configurations of ballerinas seemingly loiter without intent. It is a gorgeously held opening picture, but unfortunately the line again launched into Balanchine's geometry without tension, drama or air, although this time their unison was much better than the opening of "Emeralds."

Eventually, Balanchine's Russian court dance gets moving and in time the corps displayed flowing unison and the female quartet -- Erin Tryon, Michelle Merrell, Joan Latham and Spiridonakos -- transitioned the duets and ensemble segments joyously. In contrast, male counterparts Renato Penteado, Bruce Thornton, Carlos Guerra and Didier Bramaz seemed rushed in their phrasing.

Nothing could hold back Deanna Seay and Franklin Gamero in their dramatic duets. Seay's fast pirouette runs and Gamero's perfected tours en l'air thrillingly framed on the deep stage of the Academy.

With 36 dancers onstage dancing to Tchaikovsky's booming crescendos, beautiful pictures of imperial balletics came pouring over the footlights. Bouncing off Tchaikovsky's fireworks, the finale with all the dancers onstage was off-pace, but the dancers were clearly at a disadvantage with the recorded music.

Obviously, Villella knows how to preserve this Balanchine classic without making it a dusty museum piece. Still, there are several screws that need to be tightened on this setting of "Jewels." Yet, set against the sparkling chandelier appearing in pin-spots behind the dancers, the audience's reception showed deep appreciation for seeing this work on this stage by these dancers.

Edited by Malcolm Tay.

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