Pennsylvania Ballet dazzles with Balanchine’s Jewels

by Debra Danese for The Dance Journal | photo credit Arian Molina Soca

The Pennsylvania Ballet closed their season on Sunday with a stunning production of Balanchine’s Jewels. The three-act ballet offers no plot, but instead a visual interpretation of the gemstones emeralds, rubies, and diamonds. Balanchine is said to have been inspired by the artistry of jewelry designer Claude Arpels. Each section uses a different composer to evoke a specific mood. The ballet’s three acts are also distinctively different in movement. Some critics believe this was meant to pay homage to three different ballet styles: French, American, and Russian.

Jewels is a ballet that highlights the female dancer with the men taking on more of a secondary role. It is only with the most seasoned and dependable partners that this can be accomplished successfully. Act one, representing Emeralds, was the first example of this. Yuka Iseda (partnered by Jermel Johnson) and So Jung Shin (partnered by Jack Thomas) were brilliantly featured throughout. A great emphasis was put on the port de bras (arm movements) and both Iseda and Jung Shin executed these with a mesmerizing quality.

Audible gasps were heard from the audience as the curtain rose next on Rubies. The company was dressed in a brilliant red. As with all of the gems, the costumes play an integral role in setting the ambiance. This was effectively achieved by renowned Russian designer, Karinska. This section of the ballet had a more contemporary feel with jazz-like music by Igor Stravinsky. The choreography had dancers working in both parallel and turned out positions and incorporated flexed wrists and feet. The mood was playful and the dancers seemed to embrace it wholeheartedly. Oksana Maslova was a force to be reckoned with here. Her flexibility was on full display as she hit endless grand battements (high kicks) and penché arabesques (forward standing splits) with astounding height and precision. Apprentice Sydney Dolan also had some strong moments, especially when partnered by a male quartet.

Diamonds closed the performance and had a regal, sophisticated feel. James Ihde, in his farewell performance, was partnered with Lillian Dipiazza. This was another moment where a seasoned and skilled partner was essential. Ihde allowed Dipiazzo to move effortlessly through some challenging promenades that required great balance and control. Alternating solo work highlighted their individual strengths. Diamonds also moved the company through complex formations using intricate patterns. The transitions were seamless, using basic walks executed with a sophisticated air by the dancers. The company on a whole was commendable throughout the performance and it was enjoyable to see a variety of members highlighted.

Following the program, James Ihde took his final curtain call after 25 years as a professional dancer. It was a bittersweet moment as Ihde had become a vital part of the Philadelphia dance community. In addition to his career spent at PA Ballet, he has taken part in FringeArts, Ballet X and “Shut Up and Dance.” Confetti streamed from the rafters as fellow dancers entered the stage to warmly embrace Ihde and place single red roses at his feet.


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