According to legend, it must have been a dark winter day in the late 1960s, on which George Balanchine was swept away by sparkling jewelry, which he saw in a shop window on New York’s fancy 5th Avenue. And what did the successful choreographer do? Rather than simply to buy the beautiful diamonds, rubies, and emeralds, he was inspired by their splendor to create a new ballet, which he named “Jewels”.
“Jewels” is a neoclassical full-length ballet and yet has no plot. However, “Jewels” is neither an abstract ballet, at least not in the eyes of George Balanchine: “Storyless is not abstract. Two dancers on the stage are enough material for a story; for me, they are already a story in themselves”. Having no plot, “Jewels” rather wants to seduce the senses by a perfect combination of music and movement.
According to Balanchine, the first lyrical part of the ballet named “Emeralds”, set to music of Gabriel Fauré, shall evoke 19th-century France with all its elegance, high-fashion and refined perfumes. Following this logic, the second part called “Rubies” might then represent the energetic America of the Jazz age. For this part Balanchine chose the fiery music of Igor Stravinsky. Set to the music of Peter I. Tchaikovsky, the third part, “Diamonds”, might reference the elegance and opulence of the ballets of Tsarist Russia. Hence, “Jewels” then does not only highlight different chapters of the history of dance, but, moreover, also important stages in the life of Balanchine, who had emigrated from Russia via France to the United States.
It is no secret that George Balanchine loved women. They dominate most of his choreographies. The virtues of his ideal dancers are strength, speed, precision, and balance. “Jewels” showcases these virtues spectacularly and celebrates them in the form of a parade of beauty. Balanchine’s probably most famous quote is: “Ballet is a woman”. For Balanchine dance is foremost a feminine subject: “In my ballets, woman is first. Men are consorts. God made men to sing the praises of women. They are not equal to men: They are better.” Today, this mindset might seem a bit dated, but, knowing this, it is hardly surprising that Balanchine was married to four of his picture-perfect ballerinas. And one can almost see in “Jewels” a dancers’ competition for the attention of the spectator using their virtuosity and the language of dance to flirt subtly with the audience, just as if it were the charismatic choreographer himself.
Created in an extremely stylish era, in which Audrey Hepburn seduced America on the silver screen and Andy Warhol stirred up SoHo galleries with his ground-breaking pop art, “Jewels” has since then become a timeless classic itself. With a new set design especially created for Staatsballett Berlin by Pepe Leal and new, tasteful costumes by Spanish fashion designer Lorenzo Caprile, this particularly noble gem of dance comes in a new decor, which can only be seen in Berlin. And one thing is certain: This made to measure ballet gem will in particular – but not only – delight lovers of classical ballet!
Photo: Shoko Nakamura by Carlos Quezada.