Lana Jones and Kevin Jackson dance Balanchine

George Balanchine’s Tschaikovsky pas de deux was the absolute highlight of the Australian Ballet’s 50th anniversary gala, at least as far as I saw on the televised version of the event. Tschaikovsky pas de deux, made in 1960 for Violette Verdy and Conrad Ludlow, has all the nuances of movement of which Balanchine was capable in his choreography and requires considerable technical expertise. Lana Jones and Kevin Jackson made it their own. Jackson is to be congratulated too for stepping into a role that was to be danced by one of the best male dancers around today, David Hallberg, who for some reason that I haven’t yet learnt did not appear.

In terms of the partnership, I loved the way Jones and Jackson interacted. Their initial meeting was gracious and they seemed to linger over each movement so as to enjoy the full pleasure of being in each other’s company. They developed the engagement with each other often in quite subtle ways—a gentle lean, a thrust of the hips or a bend from the waist, for example, or a hand held out to the other, and eye contact all along the way. Jones had such fluidity in the upper body and both were in such command of their movements that they often seemed to be dancing in slow motion. In the early part of the pas de deux Jones’ double swing of the leg going through a fifth position between swings was just gorgeous. Their musical phrasing was breathtaking.  And what a beautiful ending to the pas de deux—that slow, sustained unfolding from arabesque to fish dive. And how they shone in the coda when picking up that fish dive again but beginning it not from arabesque but with Jones flinging herself through the air into Jackson’s arms. Delicious.

Both executed their variations with great attack. Jones stepped into everything as if she had all the space in the world. Turns, beaten steps, that little gargouillade from Jones, Jackson’s grands pirouettes, they all were so pleasurable to watch. Jones often reminded me of that great Balanchine ballerina Merrill Ashley. While Ballo della regina is perhaps not Balanchine’s most thought provoking ballet, it was made on Ashley and Jones could look just as brilliant in it as Ashley did. Perhaps at another gala?

Jones and Jackson were rehearsed in this pas de deux by Eve Lawson. Lawson is now a ballet mistress and repetiteur with the Australian Ballet but comes from a strong Balanchine background. Amongst other things, she worked with Edward Villella at Miami City Ballet (a company with a strong Balanchine repertoire, thanks to Villella) and has worked as a repetiteur for the George Balanchine Trust. While she had great material to coach in Jones and Jackson she appears to have brought out the very best in these two dancers and given them a real understanding of how to dance Balanchine. I can’t help wondering too whether her influence isn’t apparent elsewhere in the company? Unfortunately I didn’t see the gala onstage but the television screening gave me the impression that the Australian Ballet, especially the corps de ballet, is looking better than it has for years. Anyway it augurs well for next year’s Four Temperaments.

Bouquets all round!

Michelle Potter, 16 November 2012

Images? Unfortunately the Balanchine Trust did not give the Australian Ballet permission to photograph this part of the gala so I cannot include any images. Such a shame and incredibly annoying too.

3 thoughts on “Lana Jones and Kevin Jackson dance Balanchine

  1. I agree totally with your thoughts, Michelle, regarding the Jackson/Jones performance of “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux”. The “courtly” aspects of their interactions were perfectly felt and conveyed. I can remember a past AB performance wherein David MacAllister left an up and coming Madeleine Eastoe really in the lurch and the whole thing seemed like a competition rather than a joyous sharing.

    Another highlight of the Gala season for me was seeing Lucinda Dunn take her place as the “assoluta” of the company in the perfs of “Etudes” on Oct. 31 and Nov 3. She was radiant and secure and had the grand manner and there was no doubting we were seeing a performance from a dancer who is the Queen of the company. As you would know, the Nov 2 broadcast perf divided the ballerina role between Dunn/Rawlins/Jones/Eastoe and that perf is now a trifle bittersweet as it turns out that it was Melbourne’s last chance to see Rachel Rawlins. And it really was an immaculate performance from her. For me she was at her best in a variation. She always seemed to appreciate that classical variations were designed to show some aspect of technique and personality and not some all purpose grab-bag of steps, so each performance was well thought out and impeccably delivered.

    Other memories of “Etudes” are of Adam Bull letting go of his princely reserve and seeming to be really enjoying himself. And a promotion for Ty King-Wall can’t be too far away considering his fine work in both the Swan Lake season and in Etudes. In fact for me the real joy of the Gala was in celebrating our dancers – the absolute thrill when nearly all of our current principals came on at the start of the “50th Anniversary Overture” and lined up across the footlights was overwhelming.

  2. I’m really sorry I wasn’t able to see the gala live actually. I wasn’t prepared to comment on the whole event just from the televised version but couldn’t resist the Jones/Jackson performance. So thank you for you comments about other highlights Adrian.

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