Lincoln Center celebrated the 50th anniversary of George Balanchine’s classic Jewels I last week with a unique bill featuring performances by the leading interpreters of the work: New York City Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, and the Bolshoi Ballet (the Mariinsky also performs Jewels but was not represented last week). Interest in the work is high, with Koch Theatre sold out Friday, with occupied seats in the nosebleed fifth ring balcony side.
The idea for the ballet originated in Europe in the 1950s when Claude Arpels of the jewelry firm Van Cleef & Arpels suggested it to Balanchine. Later in the 1960s, Balanchine decided to choreograph a ballet with dancers dressed as jewels. The result is a full-length three act plotless ballet, with music from three composers.
Emeralds is the first piece, set to music by Gabriel Fauré. Balanchine considered Emeralds representative of France, set to 19th century dances of the Romantic era. Emeralds is an exercise in simplicity as rudimentary steps predominate. To make it work, leads must dance with great timing, grace, and musicality. Paris Opera Ballet was up to the task with a wonderful performance from Dorothée Gilbert and Hugo Marchand as the lead couple (see curtain call photo above). Gilbert’s movements were beautiful with flowing arms, nice supple back, and great extensions. She danced with great delicacy and authority, with a scent of French perfume. Marchand is an elegant dancer, a sturdy partner with long limbs and arched feet, producing an effective classical line. His solo work was fine, punctuated with controlled triple pirouettes to double tours. The Corps was impressive Friday, dancing like clockwork with great purpose.
Unfortunately, in the more modern New York themed Rubies, the Bolshoi was not up to the high quality of the first work. I’m used to seeing NYCB’s Teresa Reichlen, Megan Fairchild, Ashley Bouder excel in this quirky, whirlwind 20 minute work. The piece, set to the festive Stravinsky Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra, is informal and playful, featuring movements not usually seen in ballet: quirky shoulder moves, flexed feet while standing in second position, jump rope movements, and exaggerated running steps. The dancing was generally fine (although some of the pirouettes by the women were off-kilter) but Rubies lacked dynamic energy that is so vital for this work.
NYCB dancers were probably feeling the pressure defending their own turf in this unusual set up with two other leading ballet companies. Jewels was, after all, a Balanchine work that premiered at the New York State Theater (now Koch Theater). NYCB came through Friday in Diamonds with great lyricism and musicality.
Diamonds is the third piece, set to Tchaikovsky’s Third Symphony, inspired by Imperial Russia and the Mariinsky Theater, where Balanchine trained. Sara Mearns and Tyler Angle were the leads with a cool blue, Nutcracker-type background with dancers clad in classical white attire. Sara danced with great elegance, with an icy demeanor. Tyler displayed ample chivalry in the long pas de deux, filled with supported promenades, ending the dance by kissing her hand while on one knee. Tyler’s solo was effective, consisting of standard turns in second position, double tours with arms in fifth position (overhead), and coupé jeté menége. The Corps danced with great clarity as they moved impressively in synch.