Posted on: 23 June 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Laurence Green reviews The Royal Ballet’s most popular programme at The Royal Opera House.

One of The Royal Ballet’s most popular programmes Jewels – has returned to The Royal Opera House.  The ballet sprang from choreographer George Balanchine’s visit to the legendary jewellers, Van Cleef & Arpels, who are now co-sponsors of the production.

The glamorous title undoubtedly appealed to audiences in 1967, when the work was first created, and it was publicised as the first ever abstract ballet, which despite its title, has nothing to do with those precious stones. As Balanchine pointed out ‘the dancers are just dressed like jewels’.  The first part of the triptych is Emeralds, danced to the music of Fauré, the second Rubies, uses Stravinsky’s Capriccio for piano and orchestra, and the third Diamonds is performed to the second and subsequent movements of Tchaikovsky’s third symphony.

Yet the title does mean that you look at the work in a particular manner. You are likely to concentrate more intently than usual on Balanchine’s hallmark geometry and formal kaleidoscope – he is after all a master of the ‘abstract’ ballet.  There is his fluent shaping and reshaping of groups, his skill at linking dancers into necklaces and chains, and his sense of proportion, balance celebrated and imbalance resolved in the climatic assemblage of 34 performers in the finale.

The ballet pays tribute to three seminal schools of style and to the choreography and narrative imagery that are particular to their traditions: the French romantic ballet of the first half of the 19th century, the petipa tradition that followed in Russia and the 20th century American school that Balanchine himself developed.  What is quite stunning here is how the green and glitter of Emeralds quickly metamorphoses into forests and watery places, while Diamonds crosses princesses with white swans. Rubies, danced to Stravinsky’s mesmeric score, steps out of line as a distinctly contemporary classicism, ironic, debunking court behaviour via the genres of American jazz and the musical.

My favourite and the most elegant work is Diamonds which is like a summary of Petipa’s divertissements and extended dance sequences, with allusions to Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and La Bayadere

We see the familiar symmetries in the files, circular processions, and interlacing groups, the formality in the final polonaise ending in mass unison, and for the soloists in the third Scherzo movement, even the conventional high-virtuoso sequences of multiple turns and jumps. The pas de deux on the other hand is Petipa crossed with his contemporary Ivanov. It is shot through with images of a wild swan (Odette), her back arched, breast raised and arms crossed at the wrists.

The Royal Ballet company here proved on top form, their dancing light, airy and agile with movement expressing emotion,while the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House conducted by Valeriy Ovsyanikov brought out the subtle nuances and true feeling of the work.

The result was a truly sparkling three part ballet while the ROH’s full house testified to the enduring appeal of these dance gems.

Where: The Royal Opera House

Box Office: 020 7304 4000

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