Balanchine’s Jewels Sparkle on Silver Screen

Alexander Campbell, Ryoichi Hirano and Edward Watson in The Royal Ballet production of Jewels, a ballet in three acts choreographed by George Balanchine (1904-1983) to music by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) and Igor Stravinsky, performed at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden on 16 December 2013 ARPDATA ; JEWELS ; Music by Gabriel Fauré, Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky, Igor Stravinsky ; Choreography by George Balanchine ; Alexander Campbell, Ryoichi Hirano, Edward Watson ; The Royal Ballet ; At the Royal Opera House, London, UK ; 16 December 2013 ; Credit: Bill Cooper / Royal Opera House / ArenaPAL

by Gary L. Day for The Dance Journal

I don’t know whose idea it was, but whoever it was should get a medal or something. Someone got the idea of taping significant performances of classical theatre, opera and ballet and showing it in cinema houses nationwide. Doing that might actually bring a whole new audience to the works, an audience that wouldn’t have seen the original work in New York and London.

The latest work to be presented cinematically will be the Royal Opera House’s presentation of the Royal Ballet’s production of George Balanchine’s full-length classic, Jewels, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the piece’s debut in 1967. Philadelphia is a big fan of all things Balanchine. The Pennsylvania Ballet, in fact, built its audience and reputation on Balanchine. As such, there should be a lot of interest locally in the screen version of a Balanchine classic, first because the Royal Ballet does top-notch work with classical ballet, and second, because this is basically a recording of a live performance at Covent Garden in London, thus the audience is getting something closely akin  to a live version the performance.

There is a distinct difference watching a filmed version of a live performance versus watching it live and in person. A good choreographer can draw your attention to wherever on the stage he or she wants you to focus on, but you still have the freedom wander and watch whatever you like on the stage. With a filmed version, you’re obliged to follow the camera’s eye. This can give you some lovely closeups, particularly with  the duets, but some context is lost in the process.

Jewels is in three sections, each with a different style of music and choreography: the first was “Emeralds,” which focused on French romanticism; second was “Rubies,” with a jazzier approach; then finally “Diamonds,” a grand large-scale finale featuring the whole company.

It was not surprising that “Emeralds,” with its emphasis on romance, would focus mostly on duos, with the occasional trio or solo thrown in for good measure. Romantic pas de deux’s are one of Balanchine’s strong suits, and “Emeralds” elegant, understated movement that emphasized the quiet side of romance.

“Rubies” offered up livelier fare with its dramatic Stravinsky score.  Balanchine allowed his Broadway influences greater rein in this section, giving us Chorus Line high kicks and jazzy, energetic duets.

The finale, “Diamonds,” is set to the majestic music of Tchaikovsky and is no doubt the grandest of the three segments. Balanchine utilizes what appears to be the entire Royal Ballet company of dancers. It is truly an impressive sight, with upwards of two dozen dancers executing patterns with remarkable synchronicity. This is grand ballet at its grandest, a thrilling example of Balachine at the top of  his form, exciting any true fan of classical ballet.

Jewels is what is called “classical abstract” ballet, in that it is not intended to tell a specific story, but is rather intended as a pure celebration of the human form in motion. One big advantage of seeing a filmed version is frequent close-ups that enable us to see the dancers’ movements in some detail, as well as exquisitely designed costumes, each segment focusing on its signature color of green, red or white.

Purists may balk at seeing a recorded performance; well, if I could afford to fly to London to see a ballet performance live at Covent Garden, I would. But this is likely the only way I—or most of us—will get to see classic Balanchine by the Royal Ballet. It’s a treat that any fan of ballet should take advantage of.

The Royal Opera Houses presentation of George Balanchines Jewels will show one day only at the Ritz 5 Theatre, 3rd & Walnut Streets, on June 23. For time and ticket information, call 215-448-1184.