Legendary choreographer and founder of the New York City Ballet George Balanchine took sparkle and glam to dizzying levels in the 1967 three-part ballet Jewels. Inspired by his visit to the prestigious jewellers Van Cleef & Arpels, he created an unusual ‘gem dandy’ of a triptych, highlighting three different styles of costume and dance.
Today’s version, now a festive offering at The Royal Opera House ('ROH'), stays in line with Balanchine’s vision of shiny sequins and nuanced choreography. Each diamond-studded tiara and ruby-gleaming headdress is meticulously crafted, with adjoining movements set to highlight their beauty. These details make Jewels a sumptuous spectacle; it’s just a pity some of the dancing falls sub-parr to its glittering counterparts.
Emeralds is the first segment where costumes, sure enough, take centre stage: entrancing deep green-coloured top pieces adorn the ballerinas while eye-catching emerald sparklers cover the men’s vests. Despite this bountiful razzle-dazzle, the choreography is a bit like a snooze fest. Balanchine’s spotlight on French romanticism feels flowery, with Gabriel Fauré’s melancholic composition matching the lacklustre sets. Indeed, there are lovely performances throughout, particularly from Roberta Marquez – it just somehow feels void of its costume’s magic.
Rubies, however, shines bright and bold. For starters, it’s the jazzy sounds of Stravinsky. And for seconds, it’s an ode to Balanchine’s passion and roots – 20th century American hip-swinging, foot-tapping and line-driving steps. Red leotards and white tights somehow remind us of our childhood days, making it an exciting showcase of splendour and jubilance. Even though lead dancer Zenaida Yanowsky makes a small slip, she manages to continue moving about the stage, commanding sensuality, strength and sassy know-how ('we’ll have what she’s having'). Sarah Lamb's wispy frame is also magnificent: somehow each leap gets higher as she goes.
Diamonds finishes the show, resembling something between Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. This comes as no surprise since the dance is placed to Tchaikovsky’s dramatic, tension-filled melodies. This is what we hoped from Emeralds: it’s sweeping and elegant while maintaining an alluring grace. The grand sequences of interlacing groups and circular processions are breathtaking – something one might expect from 1890s Russian divertissements, or long sequences seen in Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty.
For those that haven’t seen it, it’s worth a watch, if even for a history lesson of dance and costume. And at this time of year, any kind of ballet that glistens and gleams is certainly an experience (not to mention the sparkles emulating in the Royal Opera House’s audience). 'Tis the season – Balanchine succeeds in creating a desire for diamonds, something he possibly did as a PR stunt. Either way – we thank him for it.
Jewels is at The Royal Opera House with limited performances on Sunday 28 December (2pm and 7.30pm), Monday 30 December (2pm and 7pm) and Tuesday 7 January (7.30pm). Tickets from £4 - £75. Running time is two hours and thirty minutes with two intervals. Londonist saw this on a complimentary ticket.