Review: THE ROYAL BALLET - JEWELS

Performance: 3 - 21 April
Reviewed by Naomi Cockshutt - Monday 3 April 2017

Steven McRae and Sarah Lamb in ‘Rubies’ from Jewels, The Royal Ballet © ROH/Bill Cooper, 2013

Performance reviewed: Saturday 01 April 2017

Only joining The Royal Ballet repertoire a decade ago, 2017 marks fifty years since George Balanchine’s trilogy was premièred by New York City Ballet, the company which he founded with Lincoln Kirstein in 1948. Created in response to his visit to the Fifth Avenue jewellers Van Cleef & Arpels, the Russian-American choreographer’s plotless ballet presents three distinctive works, each representing a jewel motif; namely Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds. One by one they paint a different era of ballet to a different musical aura; all costumed in their respective jewel colour. Staged by ballet repetiteur Elyse Borne and American choreographer and director Patricia Neary, both former dancers with New York City Ballet, with costume designs from the original production by Karinska, realised by Holly Hynes and complete with a new lavish set by Jean-Marc Puissant, lit by American designer Jennifer Tipton. Pavel Sorokin conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.

From the Greek word smaragdos meaning ‘green precious stone’, the opening piece Emeralds is danced to the mellow music of French composer Gabriel Fauré. The cast are costumed in green romantic tutus and the curtains of the wings are encrusted with jewels, both worshiping French Romanticism which this piece evokes. Partnered by Bulgarian dancer Valeri Hristov, First Soloist Beatriz Stix-Brunell who has the added advantage of not only growing up in New York City, but also training at the School of American Ballet, which Balanchine founded to feed into New York City Ballet is a dazzling animated lead. Later, Principal Laura Morera’s dances a soft and low legged solo, with fluttery arms and jumps that glide along the stage, not her usual dramatic and fiery style.

The middle section of the metaphorical gemstone trilogy is Rubies from the Latin word rubeus meaning red. The curtain rises to a horseshoe arrangement of dancers holding their arms up high in a zigzag arrangement, before solo pianist Robert Clark begins his volcanic eruption of Igor Stravinsky’s Jazz Age 1929 Capriccio. The dancers twist their hips en pointes, arms stretched sideways with hands flexed, accompanied by fast paced heel-toe walks, sharp turned-in legs and upbeat trots. The signature pas de deux is danced by Bostonian Principal Sarah Lamb, her elongated limbs powerfully swing to Stravinsky’s jabbing scales supported by fellow Principal Steven McRae – their partnership is radiant.

Honouring his Russian heritage, Balanchine’s contrasting and concluding section Diamonds is set to Tchaikovsky’s Third Symphony. Opening to a lilting corps de ballet, much credit can be given to Ballet Mistress Samantha Raine in creating immaculately polished patterns across the stage, both grand in scale and grand in view from the amphitheatre. Balanchine’s lyrical movement is complete with sideways inclination of the head as the dancers’ arabesque and relevé, his style mimics that of Swan Lake, with arms movements that push outwards like wings.

Most enjoyable is the pas de quatre featuring Soloist Tierney Heap and First Soloists Claire Calvert, Yasmine Naghdi, Beatriz Stix-Brunell, all recently promoted and exemplify Director Kevin O’Hare’s success in giving young dancers the opportunity to rapidly soar through the ranks. The 2017 programme sees debuts from all ranks of the Company, yet it is no surprise that the opening night cast is studded with American trained dancers, to whom Balanchine’s visionary choreographic style is second nature. It has been noted that Balanchine also considered pearls and sapphires in his work and one wonders how these jewels could have unfolded.

Jewels runs at the Royal Opera House, London until Friday 21 April 2017, with a live screening at cinemas across the world on Tuesday 11 April 2017

Naomi Cockshutt is a UK trained ballet teacher (Certificate in Ballet Teaching Studies, Royal Academy of Dance) and Master of Science, Media and Communication graduate (Cardiff University), currently working for the Dental Institute at King’s College London. Naomi began writing for British Theatre Guide, Londondance.com and Theatre Bubble where she reviews a range of theatre; from classical ballet galas and vocational school performances to musical theatre and contemporary creations.

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