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Jewels Sparkle in Palm Beach

Palm Beach
Kravis Center for the Performing Arts
03/18/2022 -  and March 19, 20, 2022 (West Palm Beach), April 1, 2, (Miami), 23, 24 (Fort Lauderdale) 2022
George Balanchine (choreography), Gabriel Fauré, Igor Stravinsky, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (music)
Opus One Orchestra Orchestra, Gary Sheldon (conductor)
Miami City Ballet Soloists & Corps de Ballet
Tony Walton (sets), Barbara Karinska (costumes), John Hall (lighting)

When this stunning triptych of ballets imagined by the émigré Russian-Georgian choreographer George Balanchine premiered in New York’s then brand new State Theater (now the Koch Theater) in 1967, it set the art form on a new course. Full‑ length ballet had previously told stories related through expressive dance. With Jewels, all became abstraction. The three precious stones giving titles to the individual works – emeralds, rubies, and diamonds – only suggest mood and at the very most situations that can be interpreted subjectively. They were billed at their premiere as “plotless.” Tony Walton’s sets for this production, which dates back to 1992, are illuminated geometric spaces with lighting to captures the green, red, and white sparkle of the corresponding jewel. Barbara Karinska’s costumes, in similarly corresponding colors, were a perfect complement – perhaps to be expected since the late Ukrainian designer collaborated with Balanchine in 75 productions and won an Oscar, in the now antiquated category of Best Color Costume, along the way.

Reportedly inspired by a visit to Van Cleef & Arpels’s boutique on Fifth Avenue, Balanchine embraced frivolity to convey different sensations and later denied that his work had anything to do with jewels. “The dancers are just dressed like jewels,” he reportedly said. “Emeralds” relies on excerpts from the French composer Gabriel Fauré’s suites for the plays Pelléas et Mélisande (1898) and Shylock (1889) to capture a Romantic sense of France. Languid movements matched Fauré’s elegant tones to present gorgeous pas de deux sequences for couples who later form a concerted architecture.

“Rubies” is a sultry, red-lit exploration of decadence suggesting the bustle of America in the 1920s. It was in that decade that Igor Stravinsky wrote his accompanying Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra (1929), a jazzy work whose sharp edges lent themselves to balletic adaptation. Prior to Balanchine, during the postwar era, Leonid Massine and Alan Carter also choreographed it. The connection with Miami City Ballet is poignant since its longtime director Edward Villella, who founded the company in 1985 and led it until 2012, danced the male lead in the production premiere. Jennifer Lauren’s female solo dominates much of the action, and she rendered a superb performance.

“Diamonds”, a sort of grand finale that was clearly Balanchine’s favorite and most personal foray into the realm of expressive dance among the three on this program, recalls the glories of Imperial Russia. The second, third, fourth, and fifth movements of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 3 (1875) lend majesty to the general affect and recall the formality of classical ballet in its elegant duets and stately polonaise.

Gary Sheldon led the Opus One Orchestra with an authoritative hand, though one missed the precision of grand European orchestras that have been enlisted to accompany the stylized feast on stage. Walton’s sets are bare of props, but their colors evoke luxury and glamor, particularly when set against the background of a starfield.

Paul du Quenoy



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