A visit to the Royal Opera House – a building so rich in tradition and creativity – is a treat in itself. Going there to watch a ballet makes for a very special occasion indeed. Earlier today, I was at the ROH to see ‘Jewels’, a three-act, abstract ballet based around three classic gem stones and the music of Fauré, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky. Performed by The Royal Ballet, this George Balanchine ballet is now in its fiftieth year and was inspired by Balanchine’s visits to the New York store of jewellers Van Cleef & Arpels.
One of the things that I most love about ballet is its use of costume, and of colour. These are important elements of any production, but surely no more so than in ‘Jewels’, whose title alone conjures up colourful images of precious, sparkling stones? I was excited, therefore, to see the costumes of the designer Karinska, Balanchine’s long-term collaborator – and rightly so. As the curtain rose for Act 1 – ‘Emeralds’ – there was a sharp intake of breath from the audience as we saw the dancers assembled in their shimmering, emerald-green costumes. The visual impact was immediate – and set the tone for the remainder of the afternoon.
Each of the three acts which make up ‘Jewels’ is based around a different musical and dance style. ‘Emeralds’ transported us into a world of romance which was reflected in both the dancers’ costumes and the music of Gabriel Fauré. You felt the troubles of the outside world melting away as you focused on the charm and beauty of the elegant movements taking place before you.
Delightful as this first act was, though, it was the following act, ‘Rubies’, which stole my heart. Whether that’s because ruby is my birthstone, I have no idea – but red has long been my favourite colour and the fact that we now found ourselves in 1920s New York sealed the deal – this is one of my favourite eras. The red & silver art deco set was stunning, and the jazz-age costumes perfectly complemented Igor Stravinsky’s music. As befitted the colour red, and the change in music, this act was far more playful – jaunty, even, with wry smiles playing across the faces of the dancers.
‘Diamonds’ saw us return to the more serene dance style that we saw in ‘Emeralds’. Clad in cream, silver and white, with a dramatic midnight blue acting as their backdrop, the dancers glided and spun across the stage. This was the world of Imperial Russia, and a more formal tone than in either of the previous two acts was immediately struck. Above all, here was the opportunity to marvel at the agility, and sheer athleticism, of the dancers.
It is fair to say that I was bowled over by ‘Jewels’. There is a real purity to it, reinforced by the simple yet glamorous sets created by Jean-Marc Puissant. With less focus on plot than in some other ballets, the audience is able to focus solely on the visual feast that is taking place before its eyes; a memorable experience indeed.