BWW Review: JEWELS, Royal Opera House
It's plain to see why Jewels, Balanchine's work that marks it's half-century this year, has an enduring appeal. It's a pure, glossy, glittering spectacle to be devoured and enjoyed by those viewing it. The advantage of a plotless ballet is that it allows one to sit back and absorb the beauty of the movements, costuming and staging, and that's what good theatre for the masses is all about.
The evening warms up gradually with the elegant and understated Emeralds set to Gabriel Faure's melodic score. Emeralds whets the appetite nicely for the indulgence of Rubies and Diamonds that follows, with gentle ambience and similarly effortless dancing. Beatriz Stix-Brunell is regal and controlled, while Laura Morera displays intelligent musicality and super sharp footwork. Morera portrays a vibrant impression of Balanchine's style of movement, all big, bold shapes while still delicately springing from foot to foot in her pointe shoes.
For this first night I found the pas de trois of Anna Rose O'Sullivan, Helen Crawford and James Hay a little less comfortable. The intricate choreography seemed a strain and the sections that required them to be linked together appeared restricted, however they quickly warmed up as the piece progressed and there was more opportunity for them to individually shine.
Rubies certainly claimed the prize for audience choice on this opening night and it's no surprise given the engaging characterisation from Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae. The two principals own these central roles, effortlessly injecting the necessary quirky stylE. Lamb's long limbs stretch to 180 degrees and beyond. Balanchine's choreography should be challenging throughout but Lamb and McRae seem to be playing with the selection of lifts and poses as if for fun rather than risk.
The humour of the male set-piece adds more likeability. The confident yet slightly camp trotting of the male cohort brings a smile each time against the juxtaposition of these strong, athletic physiques and the jaunty, jovial cantering.
Melissa Hamilton is slightly less at ease but still remains impressive as the solo showgirl in this unsupported role. Stravinsky's score flicks from brooding and moody to jazzy. There is no room for the careful, wafty serenity of Emeralds here. Rubies is full of heady 1920s glamour right down the clattering of the opulent costumes each time the ensemble pirouette.
Naturally Diamonds is left to shine the most brightly of all. Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares treat this grand (in every sense) pas de deux with the reverence and respect Balachine's choreography requires, however it's a piece that never quite delivers the powerhouse performance you want it to - and we certainly know these two are capable of it. The pair are left to charm you with their grace and fluidity to Tchaikovsky's score. Soares is masterful in his authority and strength while Nunez glitters with an ethereal radiance. The glistening costumes and grandeur of the chandeliers almost allow you to forgive any choreographic faults. If Rubies is a cocktail party, Diamonds is your embassy ball.
Jewels is a visual feast of glittering costumes, luxuriously presented with fantastical flair. It matters not that the evening features no plot; when it's so brilliantly executed to the level of the Royal Ballet, no one minds. And with all that sparkle, could it possibly be that in Jewels we have found a ballet for the Strictly age?
Image credit: Tristram Kenton