I first saw Jewels at the Royal Opera House back in 2011. This year marks the 50th anniversary of George Balanchine’s iconic gemstone-inspired triptych, so it’s both a welcome and relevant return to the Royal Ballet repertoire in spring 2017.
I have to confess that I wasn’t crazy about Jewels when I first saw it, but this might be because it was my first experience of full-length abstract ballet. (Apt, since it’s believed to be a world first in that regard). Six years later – and with plenty of enjoyable experiences watching non-narrative dance under my belt – my second visit to this classic via a live cinema screening left me blinded with its brilliance.
The three acts are distinguished not just by their assigned gemstone and accompanying bold colour palette, but by a defined historical setting communicated through costume style, choreography and choice of classical score.
First, Emeralds. Beatriz Stix-Brunell is this act’s beautiful crown jewel, a cool and elegant star in Balanchine’s dreamy vision of French Romantic ballet. Dancers drift languidly across the stage to Fauré, their floating full-skirted tutus the perfect complement to airy port de bras and deep penchée arabesques.
If Emeralds lulls you into serenely meditative state, then Rubies is the perfect pick me up. Central duo Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae spin, leap and kick across the stage like dazzling scarlet fireworks, perfectly synchronised with Stravisky’s jazzy score. Melissa Hamilton puts in a thoroughly sassy turn in the solo role, while the female corps de ballet are transformed into hip-wiggling, quirky chorus girls in miniskirted costumes. Rubies is a fun and flirty shot in the arm that brings the house down.
Diamonds, the final act, is arguably the hardest to define because choreographically, it is closest to the Royal Ballet ‘house style.’ Inspired by Marius Petipa, the classical steps familiar from the likes of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker are performed with a crisp, clean precision (albeit with some super extended Balanchine legs thrown in). The white tutus are slightly smaller in diameter than modern day creations, apparently so that more dancers could fit onto the stage. Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares’ radiant, regal pas de deux squeezes every ounce of grace and stillness out of Tchaikovsky’s music – it’s classy, rather than flashy, but still every bit as impressive as Rubies. In Diamonds’ sparkling finale, the intricate patterning of the corps de ballet builds with the music to a dramatic, triumphant flourish.
As the company took their bows and the leading ballerinas accepted their bouquets (colour coded by act, of course), I found myself wondering: if “Mr B” was still alive today, how would a fourth contemporary act look? What gemstone would it be, who would do the music and how would he choreograph it?
Feel free to put your thoughts in the comments below!