For the first time during the company's current Kennedy Center engagement, the New York Ballet last night brought back its evening-length "Jewels" that lavishly frosted wedding cake of a ballet, "abstract," but as glittery in its way as "Sleeping Beauty."
The work is 13 years old now; its longevity and audience popularity has less to do with the gemstone decor than with the choreographic radiance it emits. As much as any single work can, it serves as a kind of illustrated encyclopedia of the moods and modes of George Balanchine's art, moving from the Gallic suavity of the opening "Emeralds" movement (to music by Faure), through the American speed and cheekiness of "Rubies" (Stravinsky), to the pomp and grand sentiment of imperial Russia (Tchaikovsky).
Like a Beethoven symphony, "Jewels" can be played this way or that, but it's impossible to conceal its mastery, the rewards of which are impregnable to the vagaries of performance. As "Jewels" interpretations, go, last night's accounting was a relatively drab affair, despite some genuinely scintiallating sequences. But it was hard to leave feeling disappointed, especially since the best moments came last.
"Emeralds," the subtlest movement, was the least satisfactory. This was as close to a narcotized performance one can imagine City Ballet giving. Kyra Nichols' spinning solos was smooth but pallid, the pas de trois neatly empty, and even the normally very affecting Karin von Arnoldigen seemed out of it. Sean Lavery's impassivity, which usually sticks out by comparison, had everyone under its pall here.
The excruciatingly difficult -- and brilliant -- "Rubies" fared better. Heather Watts tossed off all those jazzy dislocations handily; still, there was something overly studied about her dancing, as if she couldn't connect with her own inner sources of excitement. Bart Cook was good, if not spectacular, as her sassy partner. Closest to deal with was Wilhelmina Frankfurt, with feet like stilettos and a toughie manner of her own that suited the part nicely.
It was, however, Suzanne Farrell in "Diamonds" who lifted the performance, however briefly, into the realm of the breathtaking. Next to her, the immaculate virtuosity of Peter Martins looked almost pedestrian. Even when she is not in optimum form, as was the case last night, Farrell holds the stage with an expressive amplitude and intensity of awesome magnitude. She's reached a plateau in her artistic development attained by at most a handful of dancers of any era.