PNB Coaching Sessions: Emeralds and Rubies

The first part, “Emeralds,” is arranged to music by Fauré, from Pelléas et Mélisande and Shylock.  It is danced by two leading couples, three soloists, and a corps de ballet of ten girls.  There is first of all a pas de deux to soft, melodious strings with eight girls accompanying, then a variation for a girl to light lilting music.  This is followed by a dance by the other leading girl.  There is a pas de trois and then to music of muted strings another pas de deux, quiet and alone.  All the dancers join in the finale.

To try to describe for you the dances themselves would be boring, for they have no literary content at all.  I suppose if this part of the ballet can be said to represent anything at all, it is perhaps an evocation of France, the France of elegance, comfort, dress, perfume.

Others seem to have found the second part, “Rubies,” representative of America. I did not have that in mind at all.  It is simply Stravinsky’s music, which I have always liked and which he and I agreed to use, arranged for a leading couple, a soloist, and a  corps de ballet of girls and boys.  The couple and the soloist alternate in leading the ensemble.–Balanchine’s Complete Stories of the Great Ballets

This blog post is long overdue, but we got a puppy (meet Tanaquil) and she’s done a number on my writing productivity. So here goes–some thoughts on PNB’s coaching sessions for Emeralds, with Mimi Paul and Violette Verdy, and Rubies, with Edward Villella.  Let’s start with Emeralds


The session began with Mimi Paul working with Lindsi Dec on her solo (Laura Tisserand and Elizabeth Murphy are also performing the part.  Murphy was marking in the back while simultaneously working on bits of the Verdy solo–she’s busy for this rep!).

Clairemarie Osta – Emeralds by Balanchine (Paris Opera Ballet)

This was truly a coaching session, meaning often, Ms. Paul would speak quite quietly to the dancers, leaving the audience to determine what was said based on the changes in the dancers’ bodies when they repeated the steps. For me, it seemed two ideas were emphasized throughout: the contrast between quickness in the feet and luxuriating in the upper body and the way the dancer’s backspace is not so much used as carved out by the way the back and arms curve around it.  The solo is full of spirals that create an almost sculptural sense of space behind the dancer.  (One of the very fun things about these coaching sessions and in-studio rehearsals is getting to see what the dancers are wearing.  Many were in leotards that plunged deeply in the back, allowing the audience to see the ways the muscles formed those swoops and spirals.)

Paul commented in the Q&A afterwards, that this solo had been changed quite a bit over the years (as has the whole ballet–the Verdy pas wasn’t in the first version). She has tried to bring back her version of the solo as best she can remember it, to augment the version taught by stager Elyse Borne.

While Paul was working with Dec, Carla Körbes, Margaret Mullin, and Elizabeth Murphy (when she wasn’t dancing the Paul solo) were working through the “bracelet” solo in the back. Violette Verdy couldn’t restrain herself from going over to help, meaning the audience had to decide if they were going to watch Verdy with her girls or Paul with Dec. The moment really drove home the fact that these sessions are real rehearsals for the dancers and that they only get a limited amount of time with these coaches.  Every second counts and there’s no need to waste any.

Lindsay Thomas, PNB videographer extraordinaire, captured the whole session and has been doling out little tidbits on the PNB YouTube channel. She posted the moment when Verdy got to take her ladies center stage (studio?) to continue work on the bracelet solo:

Emeralds Coaching Series w/Violette Verdy

She also captured one of my favorite Verdy lines of the evening in there: “You don’t do it to your arm, your arm does it to you!” As you can see in the video, Körbes caught on quickly!

That line was only beaten out for me by “Let it become, don’t make it happen.”  A little something we should all remember when dancing, but that seemed to be the particular theme Verdy was driving home for this solo.

After the solos, Paul worked with Dec and Karel Cruz on their pas de deux. It was a little rough, but definitely beginning to come together by the end of the rehearsal–I heard Dec say to Cruz as they finished “my shoes are really dead,” and they did definitely both appear to be and appear to be giving her some trouble.

The pairings for the Verdy pas  were Körbes and Joshua Grant, Murphy and William Lin-Yee, and I believe Steven Loch was working with both Leah Merchant and Margaret Mullin, though Merchant will perform with Lin-Yee.  The emphasis here was on fingers and feelings: the ways the hands touch, gently without grasping, the way the girl has been “apprivoisé,” or tamed, the regret felt, at the end, upon leaving one another.


Even though Mr. B denied it, if Emeralds is French, with the French-born, dramatic dancers to prove it (both Paul and Verdy danced for ABT as well as NYCB), then Rubies, with Queens-born Eddie Villella and New Jersey native Patricia McBride is deciedly American.  For all that it’s a cliche to say so, Rubies is my favorite of the three sections (the real aficionado loves Emeralds)–I think because I always loved it as a teenager when San Francisco Ballet would do it–and seeing Edward Villella coach the pas was a real treat, not least of all because he reminded me quite a bit of my dad (who knew?! must be the years spent in the Bronx at the Maritime Academy).

Villella worked mostly with Leta Biasucci (whose promotion to soloist is being announced tonight) and her partner Jonathan Poretta.  Angelica Generosa and James Moore also danced quite a bit during the session and Lesley Rausch and Jerome Tisserand did the first entrance of the first movement.  Jahna Frantziskonis and Matthew Renko watched, but didn’t dance, as they’d done a full run-through right before they opened the studio to the public (happily, I’ll catch them doing the part next week!).

Villella, much like Paul, was very quiet in his corrections, though Lindsay’s microphone managed to pick up his notes to the dancers, as seen in these two clips showing him working with Biasucci and Poretta:

 Rubies Coaching Series w/ Edward Villella

Though no real surprise, the theme of this session was “JAZZ!” with a little “sass” thrown in for good measure.  Villella was definitely asking for bigger, faster, jazzier, sexier–a bit of a struggle for some of the dancers, though they were definitely getting there as the rehearsal progressed.  Villella never counted anything, he hummed, beat-boxed, sang, and danced along, a series of “mmm pa!  ummm bahs!” filling the room.

The real insights came through in his Q&A (one thing I found interesting was which dancers would stay and listen–Körbes stayed through the Emeralds Q&A, and the Diamonds one as well, I think, Generosa, Biasucci, and Moore remained through all of Rubies‘.  I know the dancers have lives and long days, but it’s lovely to see them stay late to soak up all the information being handed out at these sessions.  The combination of physical and intellectual knowledge that these coaches have is what truly allows ballet to build upon its past while being expanded by new dancers and bodies).  In speaking about the Rubies pas, he said that Mr. B told him only that “there’s a show and you are the showman,” but with time and growth into the role, he realized that, really, “I was also the jockey and she was the filly.”  Balanchine would lead his dancers out, Villella said, and then they had to find themselves, or who they might be in a role.  In a “no-star company” like City Ballet, “you are a part of the repertory, the closer you get to the ballet, the closer you get to finding out who you are”–what a beautiful way to describe the way dance can let you both lose and find yourself.

As a little conclusion, I want to put something Verdy said next to something Villella said, because, to me, taken together, these statements seem to embody the idea behind this series.  Verdy commented that “Balanchine knew each of his animals…[in a ballet you] have a text but everyone will recite it differently with different accents.”  Villella said, in ballet, and particularly in Balanchine’s ballets, “we speak a language and we have to know everything about it so we don’t speak it with an accent.” So opposite and yet both so true.  Watching these coaching sessions, one sees both sides: the dancers finding clarity, learning from the bodies on which the piece was made how it operates, how it all fits together and at the same time, finding themselves in it, learning not what it is to be “accent-less” but instead what those original accents were, how they sounded, where they were, so that their own accents can expand the work, can make it live and breath, but without distortion.

Jewels opens tonight and I’ll be there next Friday–it’s sure to be a stunning event.


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