Diamonds Coaching with Jacques D’Amboise at PNB 8/20

Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins in Diamonds

Wednesday night’s coaching session of Diamonds with Jacques d’Amboise was both everything I wanted it to be and left me wanting more. Although billed as a “coaching session” for the pas de deux, d’Amboise seemed to approach it as more of a lecture-demonstration, even as Peter Boal tried to coax him into treating it like a rehearsal.  What can I say, the consummate showman had little interest in making a rehearsal public, in pointing out the minute flaws in a dancer’s performance, and far more interest in putting on a show.

And put on a show he did!  From his opening story of visiting Seattle on tour with NYCB in 1962 to his final tale about hiking the Appalachian Trail and the dance he created while doing so (a documentary about that here:, d’Amboise kept the audience laughing and completely captivated for the full hour and a half.  A favorite moment was when he impersonated ballerina Alexandra Danilova (whose 1986 memoir, Choura, first got me interested in dance history when I read it at age 12), teaching him to do a proper bow after a variation: “You danced like a prince but you bowed like a peasant!,” she admonished him.  The secret, it seems, is to combine the proper amount of humility with dragging out the moment for as long as possible to achieve the most applause.

But, in addition to d’Amboise’s stories, there was some dancing, and what lovely dancing it was!  Although five couples seem to be learning the part (Carla Körbes/Batkhural Bold, Leslie Rausch/Jerome Tisserand, Laura Tisserand/Karel Cruz, Carrie Imler/William Lin Yee, and Elizabeth Murphy/Stephen Locke), only two did the pas in full during the session: Körbes/Bold and Rausch/Tisserand.   I can’t get over what a treat it is to be able to see these beautiful PNB dancers up close and personal, in practice clothes, breathing, sweating, making little mistakes and barely concealed apologies to their partners, as they perform such remarkable repertoire.  The Diamonds pas de deux, as d’Amboise commented, is meant to be “exalted and a little celestial,” an effect often aided by the heavenly blue cyc drop, the glittering tutu and tiara, and the full orchestra, making it all the more breathtaking when it achieves those heights in the studio.  As Suzanne Farrell said to principal dancer dancer Laura Tisserand, according to the PNB Blog, “you must be fascinating before anything else,” and these couples (especially the women–it is Balanchine, after all) were.

As it still feels unfair to talk too much about the dancing at a rehearsal (in a very funny moment, after Körbes and Bold finished the full pas and were catching their breath, Peter Boal quipped “you thought we were going to stop you, didn’t you?,” and both giggled a bit self-consciously and nodded, miming a few moments when they didn’t know if they were supposed to keep dancing or not), I will say that it was fascinating to watch the differences between the two couples. Körbes and Bold seemed a little more settled into their parts–I believe both did Diamonds the last time it was at PNB–than did Rausch and Tisserand, but even so, in certain ways, I preferred Rausch’s interpretation. Körbes’s dancing feels more approachable, softer in a sense, than Rausch’s, her upper body amongst the supplest I’ve ever seen. In the moment that happens around 6:09 in the video embedded above, the backwards promenade in developé devant (also, how cool is that film? I can’t believe the Balanchine Foundation hasn’t taken it down. Ms. Sorrin, I hope you aren’t reading this!), Körbes keeps her back straighter than Farrell through the movement so that at the very end, right before leaving her partner, she can melt it into a full cambré back, giving her audience just a little bit more, before darting forward, adding another dynamic shift to the work.

Rausch, on the other hand, is a bit colder, more distant, the glittering diamond that the cavalier cannot quite possess. With her, and with some of the notes that d’Amboise did give, the “narrative” of this pas de deux, such as it is, comes to the fore a bit more, in that there is a sense of desire that appears between the couple in moments (the opening, for example, when after walking towards each other, they face one another, his arm around her back, her arm raised almost like Odette, until she looks down and away) contrasted with the woman’s independence: her frequent looking out down the diagonals, the gesture wherein one hand circles the head and the other points forward, as if reaching for something just out of reach, the dive (at 3:07) that d’Amboise commented needs to be reaching as if to touch someone. At the end of the pas, she bourrés away from her partner, then sets up for a pirouette that begins unsupported (“don’t touch her until at the 2nd pirouette!”–d’Amboise), and ends with the man on his knee, looking up to her, until she gives her his hand and allows him to kiss it (a moment that d’Amboise seemed to very much enjoy demonstrating with Rausch). She does not belong to her partner; he belongs to her. He worships her, even as she pulls away from him. It’s almost too easy to read biography into the work. She is the unattainable muse and every moment she allows you to dance with her is a gift. This aspect, Rausch seemed to really embody.

It was a fabulous evening, one that I’ll remember for a long time, and only whetted my appetite for the Emeralds and Rubies nights to come, not to mention the performances themselves. While I would have loved to see more “coaching” (because my favorite thing in the world is to watch dancers rehearse and hear peoples’ notes–I’m nerdy like that), I wouldn’t trade getting to hear d’Amboise’s stories for anything. Especially as I start working on my dissertation about the very people he was talking about, hearing stories that bring to life and humanize these men and women is all the more amazing. PNB has also posted some great photos on Facebook.

Were you there on Wednesday too? Comments or thoughts? Corrections? Please do leave them below.

Also, should I start referring to everyone by first names? Just to be a serious balletomane? I sense that I might need to spend a few more months here before I’ve achieved that level of false intimacy 🙂 Cheers!


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