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Miami City Ballet enraptures, enchants Zellerbach Hall with Balanchine’s ‘Jewels’

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OCTOBER 06, 2022

Fresh from the Sunshine State, the Miami City Ballet beamed starlike upon Zellerbach Hall on the opening night of Sept. 23. Throughout its three night stay in Berkeley, the company partnered with the Berkeley Symphony to deliver a breathtaking performance of George Balanchine’s “Jewels,” complete with the ballet’s fluctuating moods, enthralling visuals and riveting soundtrack. 

Despite a lack of perceivable narrative to drive the program, “Jewels” gleamed through the unconventionalities of its abstraction. The ballet comprises a conceptual take on the beauty, idiosyncrasies and behaviors of three varying gemstones — emeralds, rubies and diamonds. The three dances incorporate a cosmopolitan view into ballet tradition: spanning French, American and Russian dance heritages through the style and musicality of each act, the program analogizes a varied history of ballet through the lens of its precious stones. 

As unmoored as it seems, Balanchine’s abstract vision posed no challenge for the Miami City Ballet. Evincing an ambrosial fantasy in the flavor of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the Zellerbach stage donned a forest of winking virescent lights for opening act “Emeralds.” In tune with the ebbs and flows of Gabriel Fauré’s dreamily introspective “Pelléas et Mélisande,” the cast was threaded together by molding, swirling choreography — airy lifts shifted into arching arabesques; lilting limbs glided into graceful silhouettes. The first act has often been called an ethereal dreamscape, a description apt for the Miami City Ballet’s captivating performance of billowing dance sequences and gentle woodland brio.

As the Berkeley Symphony drifted into Fauré’s “Shylock,” the reverie of “Emeralds” softened into meditation. Slow saunters and languid dips eclipsed the act’s first half of quaint liveliness, fading the edges of the dance’s vignette into introspective suspension. A pensiveness descended on the theater as the dancers ended in clustered formation, waning the act to luminous applause. 

The program’s second section lifted the curtain on a striking ensemble: hued sanguine under the spotlight, the cast of “Rubies” was a head-turning array poised to stun. In contrast to the gossamer green costumes of “Emeralds,” the cast’s sudden reuniform to crimson-colored, medieval-esque garbs evoked visual effervescence against the light-studded red cathedral onstage. Flicking wrists, jump-roping bounds and reeling music concocted the coy flair that accompanied the Miami City Ballet’s eye-catching wardrobe; skirts jived and rhinestones twinkled to the dancers’ emphatic, angular movements. 

Though the verdant “Emeralds” evoked oneiric mystique and idyllic French romanticism, “Rubies” cleaved sharply into jazz-braced conflagrance. The act has been touted as a historically crowd-pleasing performance, and for good reason: Backed by the eclectic vibrance of Igor Stravinsky’s “Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra,” the dance’s punch of swing and sass galvanized the theater. In stupefying displays of brazen brilliance, soloists Jennifer Lauren, Alexander Peters and Jordan-Elizabeth Long embodied their parts with just enough combustion to ignite the stage with cheeky attitude. 

“Diamonds” marked the final tonal shift of “Jewels,” veering from the zesty panache of the second act into the soaring grandiosity of the third. Sparkling with pristine vigor, the cast’s precision and elegance exuded a fairytale-like perfection with its ballroom sparkle and composed regality. Against the lurching oboe and climbing violin of Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 3 in D Major,” the Miami City Ballet married movement to music; the mirrored synchronicity of Balanchine’s choreography crafted a manicured display of opulence and grandeur. 

In the dance’s renown pas de deux, dancers Dawn Atkins and Steven Loch forged resplendence with their sweeping arms and balanced grace. The intimate performance was followed by the stage’s heightening luminescence at the crest of the act’s explosive finale. Under the floodlights’ all-consuming radiance, flashing white and flurrying prances painted the hall in a dashing tribute to the imperial courts of 19th-century Russia. 

Adapting fluidly from one act to the next, the Miami City Ballet reaffirmed its commitment to Balanchine’s legacy with its entrancing rendition of each titular jewel. Though the program was named for the ritziness of the world’s most sought-after gemstones, audiences witnessing the company’s glorious interpretation of “Jewels” departed with an equally treasurable sense of awe at the ballet’s denouement. 

Contact Esther Huang at 

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OCTOBER 06, 2022