Review: Royal Ballet in Jewels at Royal Opera House

Performance: in rep til 19 Jun 09
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Wednesday 10 June 2009

Royal Ballet 'Jewels' in rep til 19 Jun 09.
Carlos Acosta & Alexandra Ansanelli
Photo: Bill Cooper

9 June performance

With few exceptions, it’s a shame that the art of dressing up for an evening at the ballet has gone out of fashion and in some respects it makes Balanchine’s homage to the glistening window display of Van Cleef & Arpels rather anachronistic. When Balanchine made *Jewels* he could be sure that the splendour on stage was being reflected in an audience that often came as much to be seen as to watch ballet. Of course, it’s no bad thing that people mostly come to do the latter these days and not even Beyoncé could compete with the blinding bling of Karinska’s lustrous costumes.

There were four 24-carat ballerinas to admire. Firstly, the sublime distinctions offered by Tamara Rojo and Leanne Benjamin in *Emeralds*. Rojo was the most gorgeous porcelain doll on a musical jewellery box, spinning with slow elegant precision and moving in one seamless flow; Benjamin’s solo was more particular, changing positions in tandem with the musical phrasing in Fauré‘s Shylock, always with the element of confident interplay in the timing of her steps matched to the tempo of Valeriy Ovsyanikov’s baton. Then there was the burning brilliance of Alexandra Ansanelli’s star turn in *Rubies*. It is more than a little ironic that a dancer who left New York City Ballet (Balanchine’s company) in search of more classical roles is ending her career in London, dancing Balanchine. Ansanelli is renowned for her athleticism and attack and, boy, did she give this performance the full works, oblivious to risk and finishing to a deserved rousing ovation. And finally the long-awaited return of Alina Cojocaru in a tutu; save for her one-off performance as Giselle in April and a brief cameo in the Linbury new works, this run of _*Diamonds*_marks her mainstream return to the stage after a year out through injury. It was a perfect opportunity for her to remind us – in glimpses – of her brilliance and to look forward in hope to her full return, next season.

But for all the gorgeousness of these ballerinas in a work designed to show that “ballet is woman”, the person who really came of age was Rupert Pennefather, partnering Cojocaru, who delivered a noble, elegant and very clean performance in the “princely” role. It was the best I’ve seen him dance and showed, well beyond the doubters, that he has tremendous potential for future stardom.

The Royal Ballet was critically acclaimed when it took this triptych into its repertory in 2007 and so it was an especially safe bet with which to close the 08/09 season. As insurance, virtually the same casts were employed as in the earlier first run, even to include bringing the delightful Deirdre Chapman back after a 20-month-or-so absence, although other plans for a safe repeat performance were spoiled by injury and illness to a few leading dancers (notably Zenaida Yanowsky and Ivan Putrov).

This short-odds gamble easily paid off to provide one of the best opening nights of the year, with the company at ease with itself at the end of a long season and enjoying a work that has the best of all worlds in the ice-cool precision of Emeralds, the fiery exhilaration of Rubies; and the classical Petipa pastiche of Diamonds. To the naked eye, this was a faultless cluster in a luscious setting that epitomised the magic of dance.

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