“Jewels” at Lincoln Center Festival : A Joyous and Innovative Celebration of Balanchine’s Ingenuity

"Jewels" at Lincoln Center Festival 2017 - Curtain Call - Balletomanehk.com

It took me two days to calm down from the excitement of having watched the opening performance of “Jewels” at this year’s Lincoln Center Festival in New York. In celebration of the ballet’s 50th anniversary, three of the world’s top … Continue reading

Farewell, Carla Körbes

I never saw Carla Körbes dance live, and the first time I ever watched her perform was her last. And how lucky I am that I did, thanks to the live streaming of her farewell performance on June 7 to a worldwide audience, credits to the company she retired from, Pacific Northwest Ballet—the first American company to ever broadcast an entire evening’s performance via live stream.

The program was a mixed bill event, and Carla was not the only one who bid farewell to an extremely enthusiastic audience. Soloist Kiyon Gaines also said goodbye with warm applauds from his loyal fans. The program that evening (morning here in Hong Kong) included six ballets.

The first one was “Dirty Goods,” choreographed by Andrew Bartee, with music by Oregon band The Chromatics. I don’t like the music but apparently a lot of audience members loved it—the immediate audience feedback is a special experience thanks to the chat room feature during the live stream (which became distracting sometimes). This modern piece reminded me of Trisha Brown’s style, with dancers dressed in casual wear dancing movements that remind one of everyday movements, against a backdrop of some video clips of a person walking in the forest and another hiking, etc. Interesting but not my cup of tea.

The second one, “Calling,” was the first appearance of Carla in the program. The opening of this short piece gave a stunning effect, with the 33-year-old Brazilian dancer clad in a super long creamy white dress that draped across the center stage, making mostly upper body movements. This piece is choreography by Jessica Lang (no, not that actress you might be thinking of) with music by Trio Mediaeval. The imagery from start to finish is a singular column of white with a towering feminine energy reaching out, out, and out. I was mesmerized and transfixed by this minimalist creation, reading into it my own struggle to reach for some distant dreams—life’s calling—with the feet planted firmly on the ground. When she did make that rare move with an arabesque or the lift of one leg, it accentuated the contrast of freedom and restraint. A very deep and spiritual performance. I can’t believe I was in tears already by the middle of this four-minute performance.

Carla-Körbes-Calling

“Calling”: Stunning costume, minimalist but intense choreography, supremely touching performance bt Carla Körbes.

 

The third ballet in the program was “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude” choreographed by William Forsythe. I had never seen the entirety of this ballet until this time, and it was simply fabulous! The live music performance was a delightful switch from the use of recorded music in the previous two pieces. Long before I got to know about this ballet, I was already in love with the Pringle tutus. This was like a huge Pringle feast for me (not that I like the actual potato chips… yuck!).

PNB_Livestream_The-Vertiginous-Thrill-of-Exactitude

Pacific Northwest Ballet performs “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude” by William Forsythe.

 

The next ballet, “Rassemblement,” is a contemp piece choreographed by Nacho Duato and featuring Elizabeth Murphy and Kiyon Gaines, who gave his final appearance before retirement. The music was beautiful but I wasn’t paying enough attention to the dance as I was distracted by the discussions among audience members on the screen 😦 Kiyon received many bouquets and lots of applause after the performance. One can tell that he is well loved by his fans.

The fifth piece consisted of excerpts from Balanchine’s “Jewels“. It was very cleverly arranged so that only the most dynamic and exciting parts of the ballet were included. It was a good introduction to those who have not seen the piece without stretching the time. The “Emeralds” act featured a pas de deux with Laura Tisserand and Charles McCall. The “Rubies” act featured a pas de deux with Jahna Frantziskonis and Benjamin Griffiths. I have seen many version of “Rubies,” the most recent one being Bolshoi’s performance in Hong Kong, which I thought was a disappointment. By contrast, the performance by PNB dancers was a great success in my eyes.

PNB_Livestream_Rubies

“Rubies” pas de deux with Jahna Frantziskonis and Benjamin Griffiths.

 

The highlight of Jewels was the “Diamonds” pas de deux featuring Carla Körbes and Karel Cruz. Carla had a short, creamy white bell-shaped tutu, which is quite different from the large pure white pancake tutu (similar to Odette’s) spotted in other productions. She looked sweeter than a cream cake and flowed beautifully in the stream of Tchaikovsky’s score. Her dance was grace and perfection embodied.

Carla-Körbes-Diamonds3

“Diamonds” pas de deux with Carla Körbes and Karel Cruz.

Here is a video of the “Diamonds” pas de deux, posted by PNB afterwards:

https://www.facebook.com/PNBallet/videos/10153098827513952/

Then came intermission, and everyone in the virtual audience was chatting incessantly about how much they anticipated the grand finale, “Serenade.” But when we heard the music that so solemnly announced the beginning of the ballet, a black screen greeted us for what seemed like eternity! There was a technical glitch, which was finally resolved after a few minutes. As a result, the live stream audience missed seeing the most anticipated beginning. Nonetheless, some tried to calm others down by highlighting the fact that we were all extremely lucky to be able to see the live performance free at all! The whole experience itself was indeed history in the making.

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Carla Körbes and Karel Cruz in a pas de deux in Balanchine’s “Serenade.”

The final scene of "Serenade," when Carla was transported away from the stage with the escort of her fellow dancers.

The final scene of “Serenade,” when Carla was transported away from the stage with the escort of her fellow dancers.

 

Although the quality of the live stream was less than perfect, it was tolerable when watched without full screen. And I am actually OK with the reduced quality. My reasoning is that, if everyone can watch a live ballet performance at home at a high quality, what would entice people to go to the theater anymore? Sure, it would still be extremely difficult for someone with limited resources like me to travel to the other side of the globe to watch this performance live. But at least, to ensure the continuity of ballet as an art form, whose excitement largely hinges on the risks and uncertainties inherent in live performances, it is best to leave it alone to the exclusive experience of being personally at the theater.

Here are some scenes captured from Carla Körbes’ final curtain calls. She received so many flowers and the applause just didn’t want to stop!

Carla Körbes' curtain calls

Carla Körbes’ curtain calls

 

After her retirement, Carla will be married to Patrick Fraser, a photographer who published a photo book of her and shot this slow-motion portrait of her on video:

Best wishes to this phenomenal ballet dancer of our time, who cleverly left the stage before the stage left her.

Related Article:

DanceTabs’ interview with Carla Körbes:
http://dancetabs.com/2013/02/carla-korbes-pacific-northwest-ballet-principal/

My Ballet Paintings

Lilac Dreams

Lilac Dreams 2014

 

Yesterday I finished painting a ballerina in lilac costume and called it “Lilac Dreams.” Perhaps subconsciously I was dreaming of the intoxicating perfume of lilacs at this time of year. Lilacs do not grow here in Hong Kong and I miss them. Lilac is also one of my favorite colors. I actually have several leotards, a warm-up shrug, legwarmers and a wrap skirt in this color! Anyway, it was fun to go back to painting after a long break of three years! To be able to complete this piece means the world to me , as I did an outline sketch more than a month ago before my major surgery. It was my hope that I would get to finish it during my recuperation. I did!

Below, you can see two more ballet paintings I made back in 2011. The “Full Moon Ballerina” is a collage of my painting set against a background that is a photo I took of the full moon, seen right outside my bedroom window. “Arabesque” was my very first attempt to use the software “Art Rage” to paint.

Although there is still a lot of room for improvement, I think I have made some good progress in my painting technique—a compensation for the big regression in my ballet technique! While I cannot dance with my feet at the moment, I try to dance with my mind and my hands 🙂

What do you think?

Full Moon Ballerina 2011

Full Moon Ballerina 2011

 

Arabesque 2011

Arabesque 2011

Ballet and Jeans

Still remember those days when you found yourself struggling to get your jeans up your hips? Well, those days are over! Check out the Levi’s jeans commercial featuring a pair of Korean dancers above. I never imagined that one could dance ballet in jeans, let alone that beautifully. Of course, the epitome of stretchy jeans can be found in the well-known UNIQLO commercial featuring the revered ballerina Polina Semionova:

And I’m pretty sure you balletomanes out there would remember the jeans commercial that Tan Yuan Yuan did for GAP.

Tan Yuan Yuan GAP Commercial

So far I have only tried the UNIQLO  jeans and I have to say they are truly stretchy, comfy and flattering, just as Polina attested in this video. But whether I can do the same leg-lifting feat that she did is a whole other matter!