Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, George Balanchine’s Jewels comes back to the stage giving plenty of opportunities for the whole company to show their skills off. This collection of three abstract one-act ballets is as much a showcase as a reminder that having a full-length performance of individual works by the same choreographer might not be the best of ideas.
Each ballet is identified by a gemstone (Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds), which gives the glittering costumes and sets their colour patterns. Other than that, it’s difficult to understand the connection between the three parts, if there is any. It seems each part represents a moment in the development of ballet as an art, each set to a distinctively different set of music excerpts (Fauré, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky). It might be possible then that the overarching theme is that of evolution, rather than gemology.
The evening starts off with Emeralds, the ‘oldest’ of the three in terms of style. Long tutus and geometrical, kaleidoscopic formations are central, with less space for individual showcase. However, the two main pairs (Yuhui Choe/Valeri Hristov and Francesca Hayward/Valentino Zucchetti) do an excellent job, with fantastic partnering skills in full display. It is Hayward who particularly excels in this section, displaying great elegance and technical control. It must be said, however, that other than the principals the overall feeling is that of tiredness and a certain lack of energy.
The middle piece – Rubies – is a concession to Balanchine’s playful side. Set to Stravinsky’s Capriccio for piano and orchestra, this red-infused ballet has plenty of jazz and even musical theatre elements. It’s completely different from the first section, yet there is this geometrical choreography that is uniquely Balanchine’s. Both the main partners – Mayara Magri and Marcelino Sambé – and artist Gina Storm-Jensen give energetic, skilful performances. Rubies seems to be also the piece where dancers can have a bit of fun in-between the formal Emeralds and the Petipa-esque Diamonds.
The evening concludes with Diamonds, the most challenging piece of the three and also the one that resembles a Petipa ballet the most, even set to music by Tchaikovsky. Sarah Lamb and Ryoichi Hirano display cold-but-technically-perfect dancing throughout, supported by a strong and numerous cast. This is a piece reminiscent of Giselle and Swan Lake, alternating group scenes with a demanding pas de deux that suits Lamb’s style perfectly. She and Hirano are both delicate and exceedingly elegant. Diamonds is indeed the showiest piece of the three, and an audience favourite.
There is nothing wrong about Jewels. Its high levels of technical and geometrical perfection can be appealing and are certainly impressive. The issue might be that, even though we are given ‘different’ styles in each ballet, they are all Balanchine’s, and that means it all falls into being predictable. Not having specific ideas behind each of the ballets – rather, an air of an era – leaves only the music to transmit any emotion. Like the gemstones of their titles, these three jewels are perfect and beautiful, but sadly cold.
Jewels is playing at the Royal Opera House until April 21.