Ballet Stars

PNB's "Jewels" Film Shares Priceless Gems from Balanchine's Original Cast

Violette Verdy coaches PNB principal Elizabeth Murphy in "Emeralds." Photo by Lindsay Thomas, courtesy PNB.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of George Balanchine's Jewels, and companies around the world are paying homage. While last summer's Lincoln Center Festival collaboration with New York City Ballet, Paris Opéra Ballet and Bolshoi Ballet was all glamour and excitement, Pacific Northwest Ballet is taking a reverential look back in advance of its opening performances next week.

In 2014, PNB artistic director Peter Boal invited four stars of Balanchine's original 1967 cast—Violette Verdy, Mimi Paul, Edward Villella and Jacques d'Amboise—to coach the company in their signature roles. And, thank heavens, they captured it all on film. This 20-minute promotional documentary offers priceless footage of them in rehearsals, interviews and lecture demonstrations, offering fascinating insights into Balanchine's creative process and original intentions.


It's especially heartening to see the French-born Verdy, who died in 2016, leading "Emeralds" rehearsals. Wearing her trademark red slippers, she talks about the subtlety of her variation's port de bras, and the push-pull, "yes-no-yes" energy of the pas de deux. Later, she explains how Balanchine adapted to his individual dancers. "You have a text, but nobody's going to recite it the same way," she says. "And that's the freedom Balanchine allowed us to have also, because he was at the service of the dancer's talents."

Another fun fact? Balanchine allowed Mimi Paul to choose between two pieces of music for her "Emeralds" solo. She recalls the excitement of being in the studio alone with him during its creation, noting that the process was "actually very easy." While rehearsing "Rubies," Villella stresses—and physically demonstrates—how jazz makes up its essence, while d'Amboise reveals that the final kiss in the "Diamonds" pas de deux was originally his idea.

Villella coaches PNB principal dancers (right to left) Jonathan Porretta, Lesley Rausch, and Jerome Tisserand in a rehearsal for George Balanchine's Rubies. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, courtesy PNB.

Watching these master artists share their knowledge—especially in light of Verdy's passing—underscores the importance of cherishing our history, and the responsibility we have to pass it on to future generations. "It's just like getting a whisper of that time, what that time must have been like," says PNB principal Jonathan Poretta. "These are the greats—they don't make them like that anymore."

The Conversation
Ballet Stars
Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

Your teacher at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Marcia Dale Weary, recently passed away. What impact did she have on you?

I feel deeply indebted to her. She shaped my life's course, and I know that were it not for her, I would not be living out my dream today. She led by example through her remarkable commitment to her work, as well as her genuine kindness and generosity.

You were a trainee with San Francisco Ballet. What was that experience like?

It was an exposure to different schools of thought. We were mostly in the full-lengths, and watching run-throughs of Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote was revolutionary for me. But I was young and far away from home. That transition was hard. My body started changing. It wanted to be fleshy. Biology is cruel in that way. I desperately wanted to fit in, but it wasn't meant to be.

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Do you ever wish you could teleport to London and casually stroll into The Royal Opera House to see some of the world's best-loved ballets? Well, we have a solution for you: The Royal Ballet's 2018-19 cinema season.

Whether live or recorded, the seven ballet programs listed below, streaming now through next October, will deliver all of the magic that The Royal Ballet has to offer straight to your local movie theater. Can you smell the popcorn already?

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Site Network
Left: Misa Kuranaga in The Veritginous Thrill of Exactitude. Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Boston Ballet. Right: Sasha Mukhamedov in Apollo. Altin Kaftira, Courtesy Dutch National Ballet.

San Francisco Ballet just announced some major news: longtime Boston Ballet star Misa Kuranaga will be joining the company as a principal dancer for the 2019-20 season, while Dutch National Ballet principal Sasha Mukhamedov has been hired as a soloist. They join a slew of newly promoted SFB principals and soloists, announced earlier this year.

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Ballet Stars
Xiao Nan Yu in company class. Aaron Vincent, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada.

On June 22, National Ballet of Canada principal Xiao Nan Yu will retire from the stage after 22 years with the company. Originally from Dalian, China, Yu studied at the Shen Yang School of Dance and the Beijing Dance Academy before coming to Canada's National Ballet School at age 17. She joined the National Ballet of Canada less than two years later, and was promoted to principal in 2001.

"She is a supreme dance actress with an innate ability to bring the audience into her world," says NBoC artistic director Karen Kain. "Nan has always brought such a calm confidence into the studio and has been a role model for so many dancers I will miss her generosity both inside the studio and out." We spoke with Yu as she prepared for her final week of performances. She opened up about her initial culture shock upon moving to Toronto, her thoughts on artistry and why she chose Hanna Glawari in The Merry Widow as her final role.

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