Reprinted from yesterday's late edition.
It's a lucky thing the New York City Ballet arrived at the Kennedy Center when it did Tuesday, commencing two weeks of densely packed programs that will bring us six Washington premieres, including George Balanchine's three most recent creations.
For, if you're as much of a Balanchine junkie as I am - and what dance lover of sound mind can help but be - then you need a NYC Ballet fix at fairly regular intervals during the year, the alternative being withdrawal symptoms too horrible to describe in print.
Let's face it - in the realm of contemporary ballet, this is the company of companies, and no number of Washington visits would be too many. Its character and aims may make it too distinctive to serve as a standard against which other outfits can be measured, but none has a more tonic effect after a period of absence. As Tuesday night's encounter once again demonstrated, watching these dancers in Balanchine's choreography, cleanses the eye, recharges one's kinesthetic antennae, and refreshes the spirit up and down.
The company chose to save its novelties for subsequent evenings, beginning instead with an old (i.e., 1967) Balanchine standby, the three-act "Jewels." With its multifarious musical furnishings, and its glittery sets and costumes by Peter Harvey and Barbara Karinska.
From the start, the ballet has been popular with audiences. To this day, however, there are critics who will tell you it's uneven Balanchine, and that moreover it's not really one work but three rather disparate ballets strung together. The latter assertion is true in a sense, of course. But then, champagne and caviar are quite dissimilar comestibles, yet that has never prevented them from making a jolly and satisfying combination, or from making one seem incomplete without the other.
"Jewels" is like that - its unity is not that of homogeneous elements, but of apt and even necessary completments. What's more, the three movements have always seemed quintes - sential expressions of the Balanchine aspects they represent - French suavity in "Emeralds," Stravinskian eccentric modernity in "Rubies" and imperial traditionalism in "Diamonds."
As for unevenness, the work may have its relative lulls, but even a few of its chief inspirations - the spinning solo in "Emeralds", say, the wondrously spiky byplay between principals and corps in "Rubies" and the grand adagio of "Diamonds" - would insure its lofty rank.
Still, on a scale from one to 10 as performances of "Jewels" go Tuesday's account would come in at around a six, not for any prominent specific failings, but as the reflection of a general not-quite-on-the-mark feeling. Merrill Ashley, superb dancer though she is, was too angular in line and phrase for the seamless fluency "Emeralds" demands, and the best impression in this movement was left by the men, especially Gerard Ebitz and Victor Castelli.
"Rubies," as the audience recognized, worked best, with Patricia McBride, Colleen Neary and Robert Weiss in sparkling form. Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins, though a bit subdued, did bring their special sense of spaciousness to "Diamonds." But Balanchine, as so often, was the true hero.