Jewels, Royal Ballet | Dance reviews, news & interviews
Jewels, Royal Ballet
Balanchine, a conduit for the music of the spheres
It has been said that Mozart, so prodigiously talented so young, seemed to be merely a vessel through which God, or the music of the spheres, or whichever higher being one chooses, channelled the sounds of heaven. So, too, sometimes, does Balanchine appear to be a vessel through which music is channelled, to take solid form in front of our eyes. And never more so when the music in question is Tchaikovsky.
Jewels can be a tricky piece to get right. In less than 90 minutes, it covers 150 years of dance in three plotless acts: mid-19th century French Romanticism, via Fauré, for Emeralds; American syncopated 20th-century rhythms, courtesy of Stravinsky, for Rubies; and then, to end, the late-19th-century grand classicism of Petipa, to Tchaikovsky in Diamonds. For a single company to encompass this range is never easy.
Emeralds is almost a scent rather than a ballet, a drifting, ephemeral mood of past happiness. It floats gently by, and if you try, as a dancer, to make your mark on it, you have already stepped too heavily. Akane Takada in the pas de trois alone captured the style; Alexander Campbell danced well, although in a four-square Petipa presentation that would have been better left to Diamonds. Otherwise Emeralds was what it too often is, a sort of Presbyterian heaven, where everyone stands around looking refined, but boredom prevails.
Happily, once past that, as Stravinsky’s Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra sounded (played with good pace by Robert Clark, under Valery Ovsyanikov), one could feel the audience relax into enjoyment with Rubies. Sarah Lamb (pictured right) is probably at her best in Balanchine, and Steven McRae has syncopation in his bones. But the audience's heart was, rightly, with Zenaida Yanowsky’s slick showgirl. On the outside she’s smooth and sophisticated, inside all bump-and-grind: fur coat and no knickers, as she picks up Stravinsky’s dirty little shimmies.
And then on to the grandeur that is Diamonds, Balanchine’s distillation of Tchaikovsky in dance (it is his Symphony no. 3 in D major, minus the first movement). So rich, so multi-faceted is this piece that some performances light on the references to Swan Lake, others to Sleeping Beauty. Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares (main photo, above) shimmered glacially, and Nutcracker was never far from the surface (especially with the four excellent soloists – Yuhui Choe, Melissa Hamilton, Hikaru Kobayashi and Itziar Mendizabal – whose delicate precision deserves a review all of its own).
On some evenings Nuñez, with her rock solid technique, almost seems to find things too easy, and just skates along the surface. Not tonight. Her technique was no less rock solid – indeed, her balances were little short of astonishing – but it was her embodiment of the deeper grief that always underlies Tchaikovsky’s sweetness, his eternal yearning, that gave her performance not merely beauty, but weight. Soares too imbued his scant few moments (this is, emphatically, a ballet for women) with more than pyrotechnics: his fouettés, precise and admirable though they were, had also that despair that is never far from the surface in Tchaikovsky.
And throughout the movement Ovsyanikov drove the orchestra brilliantly, allowing the reeds and winds to predominate. The scherzo, with its pas de quatre of soloists, was haunting, its tragic waltz never quite overcome, even in the grand polonaise of the finale which Nuñez and Soares blazed through.
Watch a trailer for the Bolshoi's production of Jewels
Share this article
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Grimly majestic femininity steals the show at annual Spanish showcase
Marianela Nuñez's dream Odette/Odile distracts from hideous designs and score butchery
Crystal Pite's reworked duet pips premières from Kate Prince and Hofesh Shechter
Another clever, comic double bill from Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion
Cranko's adaptation of Pushkin offers plenty of character and intrigue
Two gems and two duds in celebratory mixed bill with live music
Fine dancers in well-designed, interesting war piece
The Scandinavian stylists give a tantalising glimpse of their Royal jewels
Great Cojocaru and Vasiliev provide the cherry on top of a wonderful company production
Live orchestra makes up for touring production's dance weaknesses
A dozen unforgettable events from a rich year
Sumptuous redesign transforms old favourite into a safe new classic