Pacific Northwest Ballet celebrates the 50th anniversary of George Balanchine’s “Jewels” with an exquisite production of the full-length plotless ballet.
A man and a woman walk toward each other. Doesn’t sound much like ballet, does it? But it happens throughout George Balanchine’s “Jewels,” currently on glittering and glorious display at Pacific Northwest Ballet, and it’s a fascinating reminder of how artists can create dance without actually dancing.
Before the central pas de deux of “Emeralds,” the dreamily romantic first section set to Gabriel Fauré, the two dancers approach each other simply on a straight line, then part, then come together again, like a courtly dance procession. “Rubies,” the Stravinsky-spiked burst of angular energy that forms the ballet’s middle section, has its central couple running at each other; mere steps cannot hold them. And in the finale “Diamonds,” set to a regal Tchaikovsky score that seems to grow like a blooming flower, the dancers approach each other on a diagonal line, stepping in and out in a serpentine pattern, setting the stage for a haunting pas de deux that plays out like a love poem.
Not that there’s any sort of narrative in “Jewels”: Created by Balanchine 50 years ago, it’s a rare full-length plotless ballet; a triumph of mood over story. PNB is celebrating the anniversary by giving it a new look, with sets and costumes by Jerome Kaplan and lighting by Randall G. Chiarelli. The costumes are a sparkling wonder; particularly the multihued sweep of the “Emeralds” tutus, which seem to hold magically infinite variations of green, and the sharply fitted red jackets on the men of “Rubies,” like the most dashing of jockeys. And a lovely decision was made to set “Emeralds” against the backdrop of a starry night sky, with the dancers appearing to be caught in moonlight.
Pacific Northwest Ballet through Oct. 1; $30-$187 (pnb.org or 206-441-2424)
Opening night also brought a happy reunion: Lucien Postlewaite, who left five years ago for Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, returned to PNB as a company member, dancing the central “Emeralds” pas de deux with Noelani Pantastico. You watch them remembering their first “Romeo et Juliette” here together almost ten years ago, and while they barely look older, their dancing now has a gentle maturity; the ballet equivalent of finishing each other’s sentences.
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Sarah Ricard Orza, newly promoted to principal, found wistful beauty in the second “Emeralds” ballerina solo, and Leta Biasucci, Angelica Generosa and Kyle Davis made up a charming pas de trois. In “Rubies” Rachel Foster seemed to be having an off night, with her usual sharpness and precision occasionally wavering. But Benjamin Griffiths tossed off the ballet’s difficult moves with infectious fun, and Lindsi Dec, whose arabesque continues to be a thing of wonder, happily seemed to be crafting origami with her endless legs — all accompanied by Allan Dameron’s jazzy piano.
And the “Diamonds” pas de deux, performed with majestic elegance by Lesley Rausch and Karel Cruz, seemed to make time stand still. It’s pure dance: perfectly placed legs pointing to the sky, dreamily partnered pirouettes, a delicate interweaving of hands, an arm caught in a perfect curve, a world created. Nothing happens — like in those walks — but everything happens. Happy 50th birthday, “Jewels.” I suspect you’ll live forever.