Review: JEWELS, Royal Opera House

A sparkling performance from The Australian Ballet

By: Aug. 03, 2023
Review: JEWELS, Royal Opera House
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Review: JEWELS, Royal Opera House London welcomes The Australian Ballet to the Royal Opera House after 35 years, to celebrate their 60th anniversary, with six performances in total. A rather long commute for a week of shows, no? 

They opened their season on 2 August with George Balanchine’s full-evening, non-narrative 1967 work Jewels, with a further four performances to follow. The ballet is divided into three sections: Emeralds to Gabriel Fauré is a study of the elegant, romantic French style; Rubies to Igor Stravinsky is Balanchine’s ode to New York and his own new, jazz-infused take on classical ballet; and Diamonds to Tchaikovsky sees Balanchine acknowledge his birth country and training through the imperial grandeur of Saint Petersburg. Feeling very Uluru (Ayers Rock) right…?

Perhaps David Hallberg, the (newish-2021, American) Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet can hear this resoundingly, fundamental question already, as he confirmed in the New York Times on 1 August "I want to develop Australian voices" - indeed.

To the dancing, and the parfum of Emeralds. Sharni Spencer in the Violette Verdy role travels well with a generous sense of openness, but lacks the necessary dynamic to convey the choreographic chicness when needed. Valerie Tereshchenko brings statuesqueness to the party, but doesn't do nearly enough with the movement possibility - where's the 'step beyond the toe' spatial eagerness? Balanchine isn't the same everywhere, both in setting and execution, and The Australian Ballet production (at this point) misses the mystique one sees elsewhere - which is a vital component throughout, but unquestionably so during Emeralds.

Next comes the fizz of Rubies, and effervescence is the major vibe. Ako Kondo and Brett Chynoweth as the principal couple are dynamo. Kondo takes a while to warm up, but once she does it's the playful coquette all the way. Chynoweth has a wonderful 'up' quality to his dancing, but also relishes in the blasé, grounded, cool cat persona of the lead male. As a couple they push, pull and play; but above all it's their connectedness that's intoxicating. Isobelle Dashwood as the soloist lady is good on paper (Amazonian) but looks rigid; more risk and accentuating the shift of weight would help to embody the role's frenzied control.

And to the crescendo of the evening; the majesty of Diamonds - which doesn't disappoint. All involved are on super form: the women offering precise footwork and lavish port de bras. The men; athletic yet regal. And all of this is topped off by a formidable, principal couple Benedicte Bemet and Joseph Caley. Caley we know from his former time at two English ballet companies, and he's still the same unassuming Cavalier with an astute technique. Bemet is an intriguing dancer; clearly very capable, she brings musical understanding and individuality to the prima ballerina role. Although more development of the subtle, internal drama that lives within the choreography would be welcome.

Personally I very much enjoy the 1967 sets by Peter Harvey, which still feel both abstract and lavish simultaneously, and the original (Barbara) Karinska costumes are to be as expected: timeless and blindingly sparkling. The Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Jonathan Lo give both clarity and passion throughout, consequently allowing the real star of the show - the three scores - to soar.

We also shouldn’t ignore the fact the dancers are on the verge of striking over pay disputes with the company management, but no one can be in denial of the accomplished dancing offered by The Australian Ballet. Let's hope it's not another 35 years until they return.

Jewels is the Royal Opera House until 5 August


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