BWW Review: A Glittering, Historic Joint Production of Balanchine's JEWELS by the Paris Opera Ballet, the New York City Ballet, and the Bolshoi
From July 20th to 23rd 2017 as part of the Lincoln Center Festival in NYC, three of the world's greatest ballet companies danced together for the first time ever in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the premiere of George Balanchine's plotless evening-length masterpiece, Jewels, as well as the 50th anniversary of the festival itself. I was in the audience at the Koch Theater on the afternoon of July 22nd to witness this historic event. My anticipation of watching a glorious performance was not only met but exceeded as world-class dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet, the New York City Ballet, and the Bolshoi took the stage in turn.
First, a history lesson. The inspiration for Jewels was the collection of ballerina brooches, some of them modeled after such famous dancers as Marie Camargo and Anna Pavlova, at the Fifth Avenue store of the jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels. Balanchine used to walk past the windows, and at one point Claude Arpels encouraged Mr. B. to create a ballet with the jewels as the theme. The premiere in 1967 at the brand new Lincoln Center was an immediate critical success. Oddly, an article about the ballet in the Lincoln Center Festival Playbill does not mention Van Cleef & Arpels at all. However, the centerfold of that Playbill is a two-page ad for Van Cleef & Arpels. As a former print magazine editor myself, I can't help but wonder whether someone got a serious slap on the wrist for the article's omission of a reference to a major advertiser, a company that is also known for philanthropy to dance organizations.
As for the dancing, members of the Paris Opera Ballet acquitted themselves admirably with lush and liquid port de bras in the first act, Emeralds, set to the music of Gabriel Faure. The audience gasped in appreciation when the curtain rose to reveal the ladies in dazzling green Romantic length tutus by Christian Lacroix. I was taken once again by Balanchine's choreographic genius as the corps of ten women moved seamlessly from two groups of threes and a group of four to other groupings such as two groups of five. The men delivered high-flying leaps and accomplished the partnering with courtesy and ease.
Next up was Rubies, to the music of Igor Stravinsky, the audience favorite probably because of the saucy and speedy choreography that became one of Balanchine's trademarks. Dancers from the New York City Ballet, most notably Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz, gave flawless performances. The short, jewel-encrusted red costumes by Karinska showed off the NYCB ladies' legendary long legs and drew applause from the dancegoers.
The closer, Diamonds, to the music of Pyotr Illych Tchaikovsky, was my favorite. Once again, the audience applauded and cheered when the curtain rose. The dancers from the Bolshoi, with the ladies in classical white tutus by Elena Zaitseva who also designed the sparkling costumes for the men, were superb. Kudos to Alena Kovalena and Jacopo Tissi as the lead couple for smoothly accomplishing the intricate partnering. Diamonds was staged by Merrill Ashley and Paul Boos. Read our BWW Interview with Boos by Barnett Serchuk here: /bwwdance/article/BWW-Dance-Interview-Paul-Boos-20170417
I wish that all three companies had shared a final curtain call at the end of the performance, but that is my only niggly complaint about this landmark showcase of the astonishing fact that ballet is a universal language taught and performed with equal excellence on our shores and abroad.
(l-r) Photos by Agathe Poupeney (Paris Opera Ballet); Paul Kolnik (New York City Ballet); Elena Fetisova I Bolshoi Theatre (Bolshoi Ballet)