George Balanchine’s (1904-1983) Jewels ballet originally premiered at the New York State Theatre in April 1967 and has been performed on world stages more than 190 times since 1980. Berlin’s Staatsballett revived it for its current season with a premiere at the Deutsche Oper on May 21, 2016. Balanchine described it as “storyless but not abstract.” The ballet is divided into three parts, each distinct in colour, style, music, and movement.
The first lyrical part of the ballet, entitled “Emeralds” is set to music of Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924), including his “Pelléas at Mélisande” (1898) and “Shylock” (1889) and is meant to evoke 19th-century France with all its elegance, high-fashion and refined perfumes. It is a collection of romantic musical pieces, with a strict hierarchy, symmetry, several pas de deux, and highly classical ballet movements. Fauré was Maurice Ravel’s teacher, and his life and work bridged the eras of Romanticism and Impressionism. He wrote piano and chamber music as well as incidental music for plays and operas, and many songs set to the words of French poets of the late nineteenth century, especially Verlaine.
The second part, entitled “Rubies” and set to Igor Stravinsky’s (1882-1971) “Capriccio for Piano-Orchestra” (1929) represent the energetic America of the Jazz age. Fast-paced, operatic, with more geometrical formations and movements, this segments looks and feels very modern and has a lot of humour built into the dance. The dancers move across the the stage in short quick jumps and with fast and snappy leg kicks. Women dominate most of Balanchine’s choreographies. His probably most famous quote is: “Ballet is a woman”. For Balanchine dance was foremost a feminine subject: “In my ballets, woman is first. Men are consorts. God made men to sing the praises of women. They are not equal to men: They are better.”
Stravinsky , born in Russia, is known as one of the great composers of the twentieth century. His work encompassed styles as diverse as Romanticism, Neoclassicism and Serialism. His ballets for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes included The Firebird, Petrushka, The Rite of Spring, and Apollo. His music has been used in over 30 ballets originating with New York City Ballet from 1948 through 1987, including Danses Concertantes, Orpheus, The Cage, Agon, Monumentum pro Gesualdo, Rubies, Symphony in Three Movements,Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Concerto for Two Solo Pianos, Suite from L’Histoire du Soldat, Concertino, and Jeu de Cartes.
The third part, entitled “Diamonds,” is set to Peter Tchaikovsky’s (1840-1893) “Third Symphony” (1875), and references the elegance and opulence of the Imperial ballet and the Mariinsky Theater, where Balanchine was trained. This segment features elements of the waltz, festive parade movements, classical formations, and a grand finale with 34 dancers of the company. Jewels not only highlights different chapters of the history of dance, but, moreover, also important stages in the life of Balanchine, who had emigrated from Russia via France to the United States.
Tchaikovsky studied at the Conservatory in St. Petersburg, where Balanchine later studied piano in addition to his studies in dance. Tchaikovsky is one of the most popular and influential of all romantic composers. His work is expressive, melodic, grand in scale, with rich orchestrations. His output was prodigious and included chamber works, symphonies, concerti for various instruments, operas, and works for the piano. His creations for the ballet, composed in close partnership with Marius Petipa, include Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and The Sleeping Beauty.
Balanchine’s long-time collaborator Barbara Karinska, created the original costumes for the ballet. Even Claude Arpels of Van Cleef & Arpels, who suggested the idea of a ballet based on gems to the choreographer, was impressed with her attention to finding the finest trim that would accurately represent the true glitter of genuine gemstones. Balanchine explained: “Of course, I have always liked jewels; after all, I am an Oriental, from Georgia in the Caucasus. I like the colour of gems, the beauty of stones, and it was wonderful to see how our costume workshop, under Karinska’s direction, came so close to the quality of real stones (which were of course too heavy for the dancers to wear!).”
With a new set design created by Pepe Leal and new costumes created by the Spanish fashion designer Lorenzo Caprile (who was trained at the New York Fashion Institute of Technology, and who designed the wedding dress of the Spanish princess Cristina and dressed Queen Letizia), this ballet can be seen in Berlin again on June 19, 2016.
Choreography © The George Balanchine Trust
Photos by Carlos Quezada