Pierre-FranÃ§ois Vilanoba and Sofiane Sylve in Balanchine’s Jewels. Â© Erik Tomasson
George Balanchine’s Jewels is a Balanchine fan’s dream come true – a full-length abstract ballet of modern neoclassicism at what he does best. San Francisco Ballet’s production of Jewels is a glittering one, showcasing both the grandeur of Balanchine’s choreography and his innovative musicality, as well as San Francisco Ballet’s unique stamp upon the beloved ballet.Â
Jewels is an evening-length ballet made up of three movements – the poetic Emeralds, the jazzy Rubies, and the regal Diamonds. Despite differences in flavor, the common threads that run through these movements are Balanchine’s innovation in redefining classical ballet steps, and his incessant musicality. The sets by Tony Walton were reminiscent of a dark starry night and a childhood toy, and lent an intimate feel that felt like the inside of a black velvet-lined jewelry box, a suitable backdrop for clusters of glittering jewels.Â
“Emeralds” is set to the delicately lilting music of Gabriel Faure, defined by lyricism tinged with melancholy. The piece opens with a central couple, Lorena Feijoo and guest artist Seth Orza from Pacific Northwest Ballet, with a line of girls in softly shifting shapes in the background. Feijoo and Orza perform a series of slow turning promenades with intricate, innovative handholds that lend an unexpected yet warm intimacy, with her arms draped around his shoulders with his around her waist. Orza had an impressive regal bearing worthy of a prince, yet wavered visibly in partnering Feijoo, a problem not uncommon with dancing with a new partner. In the pas de trois, Hansuke Yamamoto, Frances Chung, and Dana Genshaft danced with glowing effervescence.
Hansuke Yamamoto, Dana Genshaft, and Frances Chung in George Balanchine’s Jewels. Â© Erik Tomasson
Even in the simplicity of the choreography, it’s amazing to see Balanchine’s mind at work, creating patterns imbued with emotion even in the simplest of movements. One of my favorites is the famous “walking” pas de deux, danced by Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith. In step with the pulsing beat of the strings, Tan walks delicately on pointe escorted by Smith. Long looks are exchanged, and the gentle walking motif is interrupted by a punctuated arm or a leg ticking like the second hand of a clock. San Francisco Ballet’s version of “Emeralds” wasn’t one of the quietest versions out there, but no wonder, with the casting of its two most dramatic ballerinas, Tan and Feijoo, in the lead roles. Feijoo’s solo was deliciously flirty, and Tan’s solo was marked with swift clarity. It was a generous rendition that dazzled like the brightest of emeralds.
The accented offbeats and an insistent bass of Stravinsky’s “Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra” signals the next movement, “Rubies”, and announces it to be a completely different world. It’s a playfully flirtatious movement that’s shamelessly flashy and completely irresistible, filled with seductive hips and daring eyes.Â Elana Altman is a glorious Siren, kicking her leg up over her head with drama in every inch of her long extensions. Vanessa Zahorian and Pascal Molat cavort mischievously as if playing their own game while sharing an inside joke. Molat’s overflowing spirit and Zahorian’s clean strength in the lightning quick choreography made this “Rubies” a fun ride.
It was an interesting study in unconventional casting. Altman and Zahorian are normally the clean, classic, understated dancers with Tan and Feijoo being the dancers with flair that seem better suited for “Rubies”. It was with impressive effort that these dancers stretched their stylistic muscles, yet I couldn’t help but to wish the volume on “Rubies” was ramped up just a tad, and “Emeralds” was danced with a little more sensitivity and introspection.
Sofiane Sylve and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba shows us why diamonds are the most precious of jewels. Backed by the sweeping Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 3, Sylve was the queen honey bee, overflowing in unforced resplendence. Even though this is an abstract ballet, Sylve and Vilanoba told a story with their movements, never too much yet perfectly so. It’s a world of nobility that builds to an impressive climax where the stage is flooded with dancers in unison. The starry background lights up in a over-the-top pattern of chandelier-surrounded-by-more-chandeliers which unfortunately overwhelms the eye, but still ends in a blazing celebration.
In all, San Francisco Ballet’s production of Jewels is an exuberant showcase of some of the best modern ballet choreography out there, as well as the vast array of talent amidst its roster. The corps was perfectly on point, matching the style of each movement to a tee. This is a program worth seeing with different casts in varying interpretations of the same roles.
Who have you seen in the lead roles? What were your thoughts?
San Francisco Ballet: Program 7, Jewels. Click here for more information.