We were privileged to see absolutely dazzling dancing in this revival of Balanchine’s Jewels by the Royal Ballet.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Balanchine’s work and a decade since it became part of the Royal Ballet’s repertoire.
The three works, all without a clear narrative structure, are a homage by Balanchine to French Romanticism (Emeralds) America and Broadway (Rubies) and the Imperial Russian ballet of Petipa ( Diamonds). The works feature scores by three composers – Faure , Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky.
Jean-Marc Puissant’s subtly spangled drapery provides a minimalistic set and there are allusions to Art Nouveau design in Emeralds, Art Deco, with the line of the columns and large chandelier in Rubies, and elegant 19th century palaces with the four chandeliers in Diamonds. His costumes are a tribute to the original Karinska ones.
The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House under the baton of maestro Pavel Sorokin were superb
Emeralds, the first piece, was lithe and elegant. In longish green tutus the dancers performed in intricate, delicate, linking formations of steps echoing the steps of the gems that inspired the piece. The arms were long and stretched yet soft.
The dancing was formal, very elegant and featured some floaty pas de deux, reminiscent of French Romantic ballet .
Beatriz Stix-Brunell, the female lead in the ‘hide and seek’ movement, circling her wrists in airy patterns, was engagingly supple and darted around with soft soaring ballon.
Laura Morera was regal yet whimsical, with floating arms and flexible torso for the Sicilienne from Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande, skittering precisely through the fiddly, fast footwork.
Morera was excellently matched by Ryoichi Hirano. The enchanting pas de trois was performed by James Hay, Helen Crawford, and Anna Rose O’Sullivan, with feather-footed Hay in particularly good form – soft high jumps, excellent landings- and Crawford was splendidly musical.
Rubies with its Stravinsky score and red costumes was a classic example of a ‘typical’ neo-classical abstract Balanchine ballet and was breathlessly performed with sizzling, dynamic energy. You could see similarities to the works Agon and The Four Temperaments. The dancers clearly had a hugely enjoyable time performing the piece which was jaunty and acrobatic, demanding great precision and energy , full of spectacular technically demanding virtuosity. The work was a tribute to Broadway and the jazz age. Stravinsky’s spiky music was full of prodding scales.
Balanchine’s choreography demanded the corps de ballet twist their hips en pointe, tip their pelvises, arms stretched sideways with hands flexed, and also featured a fast paced heel-toe walk (parallel pony trot) with over-straightened legs, seemingly endless extensions. For the men there were flying leaps and turns.
Charismatic Steven McRae was astonishing with his bravura, firecracker solos and was fabulous in his partnering.
Sarah Lamb was tremendous too, simply radiant in the show stopping, fiendishly difficult pas de deux.
Melissa Hamilton was also sparkling in the ‘showgirl’ role.
Diamonds to Tchaikovsky was very demanding and required great purity of technique. Again, one noticed the very complicated formal patterns ( homage to Petipa) – there were echoes of both Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty.
Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares were outstanding in the main pas de deux that was the centrepiece of this work. Soares displayed his usual terrific musicality and timing and excellent partnering. Nunez was regal with her soaring jumps and fast, delicately playful footwork.
The polished, strong corps de ballet and very capable soloists – especially Yasmine Naghdi and Claire Calvert – were impressive.
This was a scintillating ballet which led up to a multi-textured majestic, glittering finale .
Running time – allow three hours which includes two intervals.
There was a short ‘behind the scenes ‘ documentary that played before hand, and interviews which were screened during the intervals)
The Royal Ballet in Balanchine’s Jewels is screening as part of the Palace Opera and Ballet season between the 19th and 24th May.