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Royal Ballet in ' Jewels '


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I thought I would talk about the two casts in Jewels - both uneven, but as long as my memory holds out I will be able to put Emeralds A with Rubies B and Diamonds B, and be happy. I had seen only two full-length Jewels before, with Miami City Ballet many years ago and when the Kirov were new to it and brought it to London. I think it was HET that did Rubies on its own when I first saw Viacheslav Samodurov, who was in Holland before coming to the Royal Ballet, and who very sadly was unable to recover from injury in time for this current run. Cast A looked spectacular on paper - Tamara Rojo and Leanne Benjamin in Emeralds, Carlos Acosta and Zenaida Yanowsky in Rubies, Alina Cojocaru in Diamonds, with some added suspense as Cojocaru's partners kept changing due to injury. BTW there are a mysteriously large number of injuries at the start of this season among the male contingent - Bonelli, Samodurov, while Johan Kobborg has pulled out of most of his London performances but was apparently okay to do Kings of the Dance elsewhere, which seems unsporting. The main interest of cast B was Alexandra Ansanelli in Rubies and the fiancés Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares in Diamonds.

I am flabbergasted by the beauty of Emeralds, sublimely through-choreographed, the sheer gauze loveliness and etherality of the winding of girl corps with the opening couple, who wrap themselves inside the wafting girls like a mist, almost breathing the corps forward and then breaking through it like a radiant little moment of lovers' victory, or sun's warmth clearing the fog, while the girls swirl away. Touches of Sylphides in its sylvan atmosphere, but the two ballerinas' solos are something richer than that. The first one, done by Rojo, the mistress of the art, a variation of utter enchantment, winding arms, elusive slippings away and back bends, an ondine in her boudoir, adorning and perfuming herself, raptly absorbed with her invisible iPod playing Faure into her shell-like ears. Everything Rojo does is an invitation to a conversation with you in the audience, I find. She tells you something, and you find yourself anwering her back. The second one, done by Benjamin, a more childlike one, little skips, silvery, a descant, though she and her partner did not get the ghostly tick-tock walking pas de deux quite precise enough for it to chill one with the way it calls time. The bracing trio, unexpectedly pushing a third man to the front line, fielded Stephen McRae or Jose Martin, both with the sex appeal and earthy stage presence for it. This calls up the false major-key ensemble ending, which then so enchantingly elides into one of the most erotic pieces of choreography I have ever seen, that concluding septet. Are there other occasions when Balanchine puts near equal numbers of men and women together, and then plays slyly with the possibilities of the ' spare ', like some fascinatingly suggestive dinner party? Inside the symmetrical choreography, I am reminded of the games the men play on the women in ' Cosi fan tutte ' - the women put out a hand for support and the ' wrong ' men take them. They swap partners, without seeing who they are taking on. The last touch of the couples is again, with the ' wrong' partners, before the three men whoosh the girls away and end on their knees with a courtly gesture that is almost an invitation to the next lot of ladies. In England we rarely see Balanchines with this degree of sophisticated, bittersweet sexual playfulness, or am I just imagining it ?

No contest between the casts: Rojo is just a magical, luminous dancer who sublimates her peerless technical skill into language, the steps dissolved here into sensual atmospherics, musical allure, flowing nuances in temperature, tone, volume and colour, just as on some other night she will fire out unbelievably brilliant fouettes and balances to frighten and seduce. Marquez, the B counterpart, does the steps very nicely - both casts looked very well coached by Elyse Borne - but she is a slightly fussy dancer, she flourishes the exterior shape of the moves, rather than interpreting why this rather than that. In Cast B, Mara Galeazzi was quite wrong where Benjamin had been right, she's too musically four-square and muscular a dancer to be an illusionist. I thought she could have been better in Rubies.

Rubies seemed unfocused, almost unready, on opening night (Acosta oversold the party spirit, Sarah Lamb was okay but underwhelmed, the musicians lost their way) -- and just thrilling on the second, mainly because of Ansanelli. I have not so far been much of a fan. She has disappointed me in her classical roles with some rough dancing and lack of stylistic responsiveness and I have wondered why she came to London. It is unnerving that she is apparently going to be first cast Petrovna for Ashton's A Month in the Country next spring. It needs such nuanced teamwork, it is such a delicate cobweb of needs, and Ansanelli seems so intent on grabbing limelight and not fitting in. Whatever former reservations, she used her me-me-me style to spectacular brazen effect in Rubies, playing off a mini diva thing with her partner Ricardo Cervera who she at first tossed her head at rather scornfully, as he is a quite unassuming presence on stage (and not even a principal ! SO not cool ), and then, to my amusement and admiration, showed herself becoming increasingly attracted to him as he threw off the impressive turns and leaps that he has hidden inside that discreet personality. Finally she was throwing herself, too, on stage so recklessly that she went splat on her bum, legs splayed, but picked herself up at once and just carried on like this fabulously unpredictable firework. She was the kind of girl who you'd buy a red Ferrari off, even though she crashed it on the test drive. Yanowsky for me is rather a Volvo, well engineered, powerful, reliable, but too big and blunt in every way for the solo headliner, not fast enough to be dangerous, her feet not wittily pointed at the end of those long legs . Height needs to be a consideration for that role, but sharpness, even more. I fear Yanowsky gets typecast too much in amazon roles, when she is really a more reticent, courtly performer than that. She should be touching in a Month in the Country where she is supposed to be second cast.

Diamonds, in my view, is the weakest of the three ballets, despite its unspeakably beautiful pas de deux. Too many Snowflake references and balancés in the opening corps movement for one thing, the formal ensembles like watered-down Petipa (let alone Ivanov), lacking the great Balanchine finale excitements of things like Symphony in C. However, there is that Everest thing in the middle, that magical snowy mountain, the pas de deux. I wish that Cojocaru had been better paired than with the gigantic and inexperienced young Pennefather, since I suspect that she would have been less smiley and reassuring with someone like Bonelli or Kobborg, and hence far more mysterious. She was a very bright diamond, but a very small one. To me the darkness and attraction of the chasm is what's alluring about Suzanne Farrell's performence on the video, and which Yuliana Lopatkina had in her more on-balance, mystical way with the Kirov. Enchanting, but forbidding too. Whereas Cojocaru was a joy, a pastoral princess, Aurora in public, never physically daring her partner to catch her, or setting secret tests of his imagination, the way I sensed Farrell and Lopatkina did. But, maybe this was not really how Cojocaru wanted to perform it, rather what was forced on her by the partnership. With such a tall guy she could never look in danger. With such an inexperienced one, I will speculate, she could not take the physical risks that she can with Kobborg.

However, absolutely maximum marks to Monica Mason for casting Nunez and Soares, inspirationally, as a partnership who really are able to eloquently interrogate each other emotionally as well as physically. Their pas de deux was one of the greatest single performances of anything I have ever seen. They added up to more than the sum of their parts, all the risks coming together, a highly skilled pair of dancers with a deep and very interesting empathy with each other (this is not a Sibley-Dowell pair, they evidently strongly desire each other) and the refined and brave combined imagination to filter their love for each other through their aesthetic skill into a piece of choreography that questions the entire idea of togetherness. This just is like no other ballet pas de deux which will end in a happy fishdive or a sighing collapse. It is the most speaking and subtle dialogue about uncertainty, in my opinion, and although I might think Rojo and Cojocaru are a shade more extraordinary ballerinas, they don't regrettably have the blessing of an electrically charged partnership like Nunez and Soares do, and this pas de deux is hugely nourished by the artists having that real subtext as material. Anyway, it has been a privilege to see this ballet, enriched and fulfilled by such artists as Rojo, Cojocaru, Ansanelli, Nunez and Soares. We are very lucky in London.

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Thank you so much, delibes. This certainly seems to be the year of "Jewels," and it is wonderful to read your responses to the London performances.

The first one, done by Rojo, the mistress of the art, a variation of utter enchantment, winding arms, elusive slippings away and back bends, an ondine in her boudoir, adorning and perfuming herself, raptly absorbed with her invisible iPod playing Faure into her shell-like ears.
A very new descriptive image, for me, and one that I will never forget. Perfect! And perfectly apt!
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Thanks so much delibes for that wonderful description, and for such a sensitive response to the choreography. I wish I could see this production!

It's strange to remember now that the ballet took a while to find its final shape. The scherzo in Diamonds kept disappearing - one night it was there, the next performance it wasn't (of course, that may have had more to do with injuries than creative dithering). The solos in Emeralds kept getting shifted around and didn't settle until Verdy stopped dancing the section. And the magnificent septet that ends Emeralds wasn't added till some ten years later, after Balanchine created it for the filming for Dance in America. There were many other small changes, but that was Balanchine's way. He was rarely ever finished with any of his ballets. And now they're set for good, which seems even stranger.

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i know the video of EMERALDS has notes that claim balanchine added the septet/sarabande for tv and then added it to the stage version.

i'm not sure this is so. i think he added earlier in the year of the taping for the stage and then kept it for the taping.

but i suppose i could be wrong here.

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I was at the first night and it was also the first time I had seen Jewels which I enjoyed immensely.

It’s hard to comment on performances when unfamiliar with the work, but I do find Cojacuru - a wonderful dancer IMO - amazingly expansive considering her tiny size.

After Delibes’ comments about Nunez and Soares , I’m looking forward to my second viewing next week even more !

A wonderful addition to the Royal Ballet’s repertory.

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