Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The Royal Ballet - Jewels

Yohei Sasaki, Johannes Stepanek, Bennet Gartside in Rubies as part of Jewels – photo Johan Persson

Three different stones - Three different phases of life - Three different composers

Put them together and what have you got ? An abstract ballet choreographed by George Balanchine in 1967, themed with Emeralds, Rubies & Diamonds, and called, appropriately enough; Jewels.

The Royal Ballet premiered this complete production in November 2007, staged by, among others, the quite wonderful Patricia Neary.

Each facet starts off with the dancers in position onstage, the curtain peeling back to reveal a clean-coloured set appropriate to its jewel.

Fauré’s music in Emeralds is fluid, opening gradually like a flower to the sun. Beautiful lilting arms and precise, high-kicking feet from Tamara Rojo although I would have liked to have seen her partnered with Bennet Gartside; I found the shaky partnering of Valerie Hristov (replacing the injured Ed Watson) slightly distracting and Rojo didn’t look entirely comfortable either - until she was on her own where she bloomed. Leanne Benjamin seemed to exist entirely above the stage as she floated incredibly in slow motion, very ably partnered by Gartside. Emeralds is a quiet ballet, cautiously dipping its toe to feel the air. Stephen McRae’s jumps were soundless and his turns sharp & quick; his technique and charisma mark him out in everything he dances, even when he's still.

Stephen McRae and Laura Morera

I thought I would miss the injured Sarah Lamb in Rubies; she made such an impression previously. Balanchine’s great friend Stravinsky whips up a capriccio with an American flavour - it's fast, it's flippy & most of all great fun. Alexandra Ansanelli, familiar with this role from her time in America & replacing Lamb, was by turns flirtatious, witty and very, very accomplished. I thought she pushed the boundaries of what was possible without any effort. Carlos Acosta revelled in the sizzling steps and light-hearted banter; many a politely challenging smile passed between the two as the stage caught alight. Ricardo Cervera & Johannes Stepanek never put a foot wrong. I’ve never really ‘got’ the strange horse-like steps here but they tackle them with panache. The very appreciative audience delivered a rousing reception.

Alexandra Ansanelli & Carlos Acosta

Rubies have always been closely associated with courage, so it couldn’t be more appropriate that Ansanelli not only dances this role, but takes it by the scruff of the neck, makes it her own & throws it back for the audience to enjoy, when she’s not in an easy position right now.

Alina Cojocaru and Rupert Pennefather in Diamonds as part of Jewels – photo Johan Persson

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance ?

(W.B. Yeats)

For me this quote sums up the way that Diamonds should be danced, and there was huge anticipation for Alina Cojocaru’s return in Diamonds – her first tutu role since returning from a long injury break. The curtain reveals a Persil-white setting overlaid with apparently flawless and definately sparkling diamonds. Tchaikovsky’s lovely music builds towards its brilliant Polonaise at the end. In Antiquity, diamonds were seen as the most precious of gems; indeed, their Greek translation means literally ‘invincible jewel’. And so our own invincible jewel danced not with the hardness of a diamond but with moving tenderness, opening her arms to the audience much as our earlier flowers had waited for the sun, revealing her flawlessness. Leanne Cope beamed out with her melting shoulders and softly phrased feet. Cojocaru’s improving partner, Rupert Pennefather, wobbled in the slow supporting balances but Cojocaru never looked uncertain. Yuhui Choe & Helen Crawford stood out for their musicality. Perhaps the most cheering of the night went to Cojocaru. She has been so missed, and it takes a certain steel to recover from such an injury and go on to take risks, however calculated.

Michelle Obama and the girls were just around the block taking in The Lion King. I’m sure they had a great time but what girl can ever resist a jewel ?


  1. Mmmm...Faure.....I have long felt that there is a huge untapped overlap between ballet and classical music. Ballet is now, yet much classical repertoire is old...and modern classical is far less elegant and "timely".

    With a young child tenderly making her way in ballet, I do hope to explore the possibilty of looking at symphonic composers and whether their music can be used in a ballet context....we shall see. At the same time, I may have to be patient and even let this notion fly away if it is not easily embraced.

  2. Thank you for this review. I hope to buy some tickets for my friends and I as a result of reading this.


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