What? Another night at the Royal Opera House? Hey don't blame me, I have to go to make sure Owen doesn't climb onstage and jig about.
This time it was to celebrate the 50th birthday of George Balanchine's three part ballet based on the jewels he once saw on a visit to Van Cleef & Arpels. Balanchine is credited with being the father of American Ballet but is also the template for the modern choreographer who can move between the worlds of ballet, dance, musical theatre and even film.
Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Balanchine was the last choreographer hired by Sergei Diaghilev for his landmark company the Ballets Russes and after the impresario's death he struggled on with failing companies in Monte Carlo before making the move to the US where he flourished and found fertile ground for his exploration into abstract dance.
Indeed JEWELS is a necklace of short abstract ballets which had as a connecting thread three moments of dance development - EMERALDS is based on classical French ballet with languid movement to music by Fauré, RUBIES is pure 20th Century jazz ballet danced to music by Stravinsky and DIAMONDS is in the Russian Imperial style to music by Tchaikovsky. It was certainly charming and showed the expertise of the Royal Ballet company but I found it an oddly disjointed affair.
EMERALDS as I said was all very languid but - and this might be a hangover from the contemporary dance seen recently - none of it seemed terribly exciting and the choreography seemed very - um - ok I'll say it - American. It all seemed very ersatz and toothless, admittedly it did end interestingly with the four women leaving the stage slowly as the men knelt alone - as Owen opined "they have lost their emeralds" but it was all very dreary. It was only the drama of a woman having a seizure in the row in front of me that stopped me dropping off. She was ok after a while - but it did make me wonder how they get someone out of the precipitous amphitheatre seats if they conk out...
DIAMONDS was better only in so far as it contained a wonderful performance from Marianela Nunez as the lead ballerina in an extended pas-de-doux with Thiago Soares which must be exhausting to perform as to be honest it did outstay it's welcome for me. Again one could not fault the performances of the company but it did ultimately - again - feel like a copy of a copy; a Las Vegas recreation of watching Pavlova.
The reason that these two nostalgic ballets felt so thin was because the middle section RUBIES was practically fizzing with inventiveness and wit! Like a Van Cleef and Arpels necklace, tiny diamonds and emeralds surrounded a huzzing big glorious ruby slap-bang in the middle of the setting.
Vibrant and colourful, Balanchine's tribute to the American idiom of jazz ballet was the only one of the three pieces that felt original and with it's own inner dynamic which lit up the stage. Stravinsky's 'Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra' jabs and pokes at you, keeping you - as well as the dancers - on your toes. The delicious ruby-red costumes turn the stage incarnadine - there you go Virginia Woolf, I used one of your favourite words. There is a very good reason why the poster art for this revival features the central couple from RUBIES - because they are sensational!
The established partnership of Steven McRae and Sarah Lamb lit up the stage and not just because of their bejewelled costumes. They gave the piece a real sense of personality and their style made it seem as if it was all coming naturally to them, belying the intensive training needed to achieve it. Steven McRae's cheeky persona shone out but his dancing prowess was also in evidence as his dizzying pirouette into the wings at top speed attested to. Sarah Lamb's extraordinary suppleness and grace thrilled with her gravity-defying extensions and spins. They were complemented by Melissa Hamilton whose angular jazz movements suggested the influence that Balanchine had on Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse.
Lamb and McRae's larger-than-life performances are what I will remember about JEWELS, two dancers at the top of their talent given the perfect showcase to dazzle.