Dance Preview: GEORGE BALANCHINE’S JEWELS (Mariinsky Ballet at the Music Center)

by Tony Frankel on October 18, 2019

in Dance,Theater-Los Angeles,Tours

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The astounding Mariinsky Ballet from St. Petersberg is coming to the Southland for two engagements. The first at Segerstrom Center for the Arts this weekend will feature Petipa’s great Russian classic La Bayadère. Next weekend, October 24-27, The Music Center hosts the company — truly, one of the best globally — for its presentation of George Balanchine’s Jewels.

Stage and Cinema contacted Lincoln Jones, Artistic Director of L.A.’s own American Contemporary Ballet, now in its Ninth Season. Mr. Jones, connoisseur on all things ballet and an authority on Balanchine, took time from rehearsals preparing his company for its Halloween program, Inferno & Burlesque (a DO-NOT-MISS event thru Nov. 2).

Choreographed by Balanchine in 1967, Jewels is recognized as the first great full-length abstract work of classical ballet. Is that accurate? “It’s an interesting thing,” the choreographer said, “because Jewels is ‘full-length’ only in the context of the length of a 19th-century ballet. But each of the parts can stand just as easily on its own.”

The ballet features three acts: Emeralds, (music: Gabriel Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande, extracts [1898] and Shylock [1889]; Rubies (Igor Stravinsky’s Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra [1929]), and Diamonds, (Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 3 in D major (1875) sans the first movement), all of which will be played live by the Mariinsky Orchestra led by Alexei Repnikov. “None of the ballets need each other to work, and they don’t lose anything out of the context of the combination, but the full ballet is more than the sum of it’s parts because they fit and contrast so beautifully in a thematic sense.”

So, was it a game-changer? “Actually, I don’t think it was too much of a game-changer, because there haven’t been many two-hour abstract ballets of note since. In fact, all things considered, it is fairly one-of-a-kind. But the idea and invention were epic, so in that sense, yes. It is a massive edifice of a masterpiece, and demonstrates Balanchine’s unparalleled ability to create unique atmospheres, even as variations on a single theme.”

Is that why it is so often produced? “Well, it is a great ballet, and I think there is a little something for everyone in it: the haunting otherworldliness of Emeralds, the assertive, jazzy angularity of Rubies, and the mysterious regality of Diamonds. Balanchine had originally thought of doing a sapphire section too, to the music of Schoenberg, but thought the color of the sapphires wouldn’t read from the stage.

“Also, as an ‘abstract’ ballet (Balanchine preferred the term ‘concrete’, meaning (roughly) that what you see is what you get) it is an easy concept to grasp: three variations on a theme, three different jewels of quite different appearance, and three ballets of very different construction.”

Does it pose any special challenges to the dancers? “Yes. Like any Balanchine ballet, all three parts are full of technical and stylistic challenges, but I think the biggest challenge for dancers today is the male principal role in Rubies. I’ve seen the ballet performed several times by different companies and dancers, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it done after Balanchine’s time in a way where it seemed like a natural, expressive way of moving for the dancer. It can get quite awkward, actually. I think it is especially difficult for companies which are steeped in a more homogenous stylistic training.

But that is the wonderful thing about Balanchine. He left us all these challenges to master, and if we can, we’ll all be better dancers for it.”

photos by Natasha Razina

Mariinsky Ballet
Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave
runs October 24-27 (five performances), 2019
for tickets, call 213.972.0711 or visit Music Center

for La Bayadère at SCFTA in Costa Mesa through October 20, visit Segerstrom

Inferno & Burlesque
American Contemporary Ballet
877 S. Francisco St., Upper Level, DTLA
program contains nudity
ends on November 2, 2019
for dates and tickets, visit ACB

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