As I watch the Balanchine Centennial revival of Jewels with its new sets by Peter Harvey (a soft-focus, gem-draped glade for “Emeralds,” slashing red lines for “Rubies,” and—the least effective—a bright turquoise haze where a ballroom is called for in “Diamonds”), the expected cliché leaps to mind: More than 20 years after Balanchine’s death, the jewels of New York City Ballet are not just his magnificent works but those who dance them. Many will never forget Mimi Paul and Violette Verdy in “Emeralds,” but Rachel Rutherford and Pascale van Kipnis understand the dreamy vision of the magical outdoor space that Balanchine conjured to music from Fauré’s Pélléas et Mélisande and Shylock. (Rutherford’s use of her head, arms, and upper body is especially lovely.) Corps member Teresa Reichlin—who demonstrated not only her gleaming dancing but her aplomb in a performance of Tchaikovksky Piano Concerto No. 2, when she took on Jennie Somogyi’s role as well as her own after Somogyi was injured midway through the ballet—entranced both the audience and the four larky guys of “Rubies,” who grab her and work her mile-long legs as if she were a surprise Christmas toy.
Peter Boal made his debut in Edward Villella’s role in “Rubies.” His sly enjoyment of the jazzy, high-speed games Mr. B drew from Stravinsky’s Capricchio for Piano and Orchestra lit unexpected sparks in his partner, Yvonne Borree. Boal also gave us one of the most gripping Prodigal Sons I’ve seen—not just for his vivid dancing but for the nuances he brought to the drama: his boyish innocence, his slight double take on glamorous Siren Darci Kistler’s entrance, his slowness in recognizing the danger he’s in from her and her goon squad, his joy at being home again—tinged with something like embarrassment.
Another splendid male performance: Nikolaj Hübbe’s in Apollo. In his struggles to tame his own youthful roughness as well as harness the three trusting young-girl Muses, he lets us see the impulses start in his mind and body before he carries them out. The tender, subtly sensual way he touches the women hints at his fast-developing maturity. If this god is still a bit the boisterous boy, the boy learns quickly what it takes to be a god.
One night, Hübbe’s Apollo was preceded by Donizetti Variations. I’d forgotten how much I love it and how often its springy freshness, its opening dance for three trios of bright-footed folk in Karinska’s pretty peasant attire, its flirtatious games and little jokes remind me of Balanchine’s affection for another Dane, August Bournonville, and his 19th-century vision of Naples. The season (to resume in April) evokes many such layers of influence and respect. In 1908, Mikhail Fokine purged the drama from his Chopiniana (just as Balanchine much later excised the narrative opening from Apollo). When Alexandra Danilova staged what had become famous as Les Sylphides for NYCB in 1972, the tulle skirts were replaced by practice clothes and the orchestration by Chopin’s original piano version. Beautifully danced by advanced students from the School of American Ballet, the choreography looks newly-minted, a simple setting for these young gems.
I go to concerts by Doug Varone for a fix of gorgeous, strangely evasive sensuality that shivers off the stage and into the audience. Varone’s dancers often seem to yearn for the ineffable. But unlike heroes of the 19th-century Romantic trope, what they want is always close at hand, breathing on their hair, curling close to them, falling into their arms—and then glancing off, shying away, and slipping into another equally fraught union.
In duets like Short Story, which Varone and Nina Watt danced with devastating subtlety at the Joyce, the connections and misconnections are small and heartbreaking—a slight shrug away from a touch, a hand that hovers just above a partner’s shoulder and then retracts. In a work like the 2003 Of the Earth Far Below, Varone explodes fragile intimacy into something like apocalypse. The dancers race on and off the stage, topple, crawl, drag one another, freeze suddenly, shove, heap up in unfriendly ways. They’re like mad dogs or a mob running amok in the brilliantly deranged rhythms of Steve Reich’s Triple Quartet. The curtain comes down, and they’re still at it.
Varone’s fascination with density and constant change, his avoidance of unison, can be both exhilarating and fatiguing to watch. Lots of beautiful, slippery complexity makes parts of his brand-new Castles look like a less drastic version of Earth. In a witty duet for John Beasant III and Daniel Charon, the rare unison dancing is a welcome shock. Varone’s lyricism, like that of José Limón (in whose company he once danced), is earthy and muscular, if more dissembling, and Prokofiev’s Waltz Suite, Opus 110 presses tumult and tang into the familiar rush of 3/4 time. We seem to be watching stories begin and never finish, castles that crumble even as they’re being built.
His dancers do him proud, and he lets us focus more closely on them in the 1993 Rise (music by John Adams): the ravishing Adriane Fang, with Ryan Corristan standing in for injured Eddie Taketa; Stephanie Liapis and Kayvon Pourazar; Natalie Desch and Charon. There’s a terrific solo for Beasant and a fine trio for Fang, Charon, and Catherine Miller. More riches!