Diamonds, according to recent gemstone industry reports, are not forever. Demand for this stone has fallen dramatically in the past two decades as the diamond cartel has failed to keep up with retail landscape disruptions and changing consumer demographics. Its once formidable advertising thrust, centered around the idea of women hanging around, waiting to be swept off their feet by a prince, no longer resonates. Even George Balanchine, back in 1967, imbued his female protagonist in Diamonds with more agency.

Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle in <i>Diamonds</i> © Paul Kolnik
Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle in Diamonds
© Paul Kolnik

At the time, Balanchine sought to attract the well-heeled to the New York State Theater and, somewhat cynically, offered them visions of ballerinas as jewels. The Diamonds ballerina arrives on the scene already dripping with diamonds, and masterfully negotiates an entente with the prince of a neighboring kingdom. This diplomatic pas de deux is one of the most inspired of Balanchine’s creations, conveying intimacy and nobility with a minimalist vocabulary.

Maria Kowroski, who just this past spring demonstrated her authority in the leading Diamonds role, did not quite rise to the occasion on this season’s opening night. Her lines were pristine but she didn’t attack them with her usual daring, and she finished several devilish turn sequences with uncharacteristic vagueness. She could not have asked for a more sympathetic counterpart than Tyler Angle, who hovered tenderly and respectfully, and dispatched his solo duties with confidence and an understated nobility. A telling sign that Kowroski was struggling was the drawn look on her face, which persisted through the finale, after she and Angle had come to an official understanding. In performances past, she has radiated joy while steering her courtiers through their celebrations; on opening night, she gave the impression of a monarch overwhelmed by the responsibilities of government.

While the diamond business may be under pressure, the future of haute joaillerie is far from dim, thanks to a consumer base increasingly dominated by millennials and Asian buyers, who are reportedly plunking down vast sums for rubies and emeralds. This demand is being met through the discovery of new mineral deposits, and with the help of new technologies that can repair flaws in lower-quality gems.

Kristen Segin, Harrison Ball and Indiana Woodward in <i>Emeralds</i> © Paul Kolnik
Kristen Segin, Harrison Ball and Indiana Woodward in Emeralds
© Paul Kolnik

In the face of such advances, and of modern advertising campaigns for emeralds and rubies fronted by celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Mila Kunis, Balanchine’s Emeralds and Rubies, which constitute two-thirds of the evening-length Jewels suite, seem long overdue for a facelift. On opening night, I half expected moths to fly out of the Emerald tutus in neon shamrock green. The Emerald forest was bathed in sickly green, its forlorn strings of baubles suggestive of a beer garden. It was left to the marvelous Emerald corps with their droopy elegance to remind us that we were really in a dreamy, watery landscape. In Rubies, the scarlet velvet outfits that scream jester are curiously at odds with the mid-century New York jazz vibe of Balanchine’s choreography. Set design for Rubies was marginally more exciting, with its bold slashes of neon red framing the wings, and an enormous exploded nest of red feathers in place of a disco ball.

Apart from some momentary untidiness among the Rubies corps, the ensembles provided welcome pizzazz. Principal performances were more uneven. Stellar solo turns were delivered by Unity Phelan batting clean-up in Emeralds and Emily Kikta likewise in Rubies. Phelan conveyed an ineffable combination of majesty and girlish delight as she piquéd briskly through the woods, her delicate and precise footwork counterpointed by heavenly swirling jumps.

Emily Kikta in <i>Rubies</i> © Paul Kolnik
Emily Kikta in Rubies
© Paul Kolnik

The sharp and sassy Kikta (a standout member of the corps) demolished the angular, hip-thrusting, off-kilter moves in Rubies, using her pointes like emphatic punctuation marks. When four men maneuvered her into various geometric configurations, each one gripping her by an ankle or a wrist, she endured them as she would have a swarm of midges.

Abi Stafford danced the other principal role in Emeralds with a winsome manner and lush port de bras, but zero chemistry with her partner, Amar Ramasar, who mugged his way through the exercise.

Another casting misfire paired Andrew Veyette with Sterling Hyltin in the central Rubies duet. Hyltin gave the modernist enterprise a cool, ironic edge against which Veyette’s performance appeared labored and leaden.

Notwithstanding glimpses of brilliance, the entire production feels dated and the evening as a whole simply underscored the out-of-touchness of ballet. A gemstone marketing executive, summing up the state of affairs in the diamond business, said, "Adornment is eternal. But the way we present the industry to these younger and newer and multi-ethnic and multi-income consumers needs to change. We have to show them who they are, and not who we are." He could have been talking about the world of ballet.

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