Sydney Opera House, Sydney.
12 May 2023.
The 2023 Season of The Australian Ballet, marks the 60th year – diamond anniversary – of the company. Celebrating six decades of excellence and ambition the company sparkled bright in Jewels at the Sydney Opera House on the evening of Friday, 12 May.
Jewels is a well-known 1960s ballet created by 20th century’s ballet icon George Balanchine. As one of the most influential choreographers of his day, Balanchine’s signature style is woven throughout the three-part ballet. Premiering in New York City in 1967, the ballet is characterised by different gemstones. Thematically structured, each jewels is visually portrayed; The first “Emeralds”, the second “Rubies” and the third “Diamonds” – each has its own characteristic, style, tone and choreography. Balanchine expressed that his gemstone-themed ballet with jeweled costumes was inspired, in part, by his introduction to jeweler Claude Arpels, whose collection of precious stones he admired. The work explores the notion of each jewel’s meaning and how this would be embodied by the movement of the dancer.
David Hallberg, artistic director of The Australian Ballet, says, “Each jewel in this ballet has equal beauty and power. Emeralds, soft and mysterious. Rubies, sharp and stylised. Diamonds, brilliant and sparkling. It is a visual feast for the balletic eye and an enormous opportunity for the dancers to tackle one of Balanchine’s greatest masterpieces.”
Opening the evening with “Emeralds,” the audience was taken by the beauty and romanticism of the piece. A French Romantic ballet, “Emeralds” portrays the essence of elegance, the sense of comfort and the grace of 19th century ballet. Set to a score by Gabriel Fauré, the movement motifs performed by Shari Spencer, Imogen Chapman, Larissa Kiyoto-Ward and Katherine Sonnekus were created by soft elongated arm and leg extensions, temp levés and arabesques displaying the fullness of the green tulle costumes that they wore. Bourrées frequented the piece and resembled twirls similar to a ballerina in a jewellery box. The pas de trois including Drew Hedditch was playful and displayed the dancers’ abilities beautifully as they floated across the stage and intertwined with one another. The necklines of the costumes and headpieces were adorned with green emeralds, as were the top of the tulle skirts. The set design by Peter Harvey was opulent and dramatic and certainly breathtaking.
In contrast, next was “Rubies”. Entertained by the playfulness in this piece, the audience offered the artists many laughs from characterised quirky movements that perhaps connected them to the days of silent comedy films. Set to a score by Igor Stravinsky, the mood was playful and the choreography was fast and sharp. A New York jazz age-inspired piece, the dynamic neo-classical style suggests themes of the old Hollywood era. The costumes designed by Barbara Karinska were deep red leotards, a short panelled skirt with rubies on each panel. These cleverly magnified the crisp leg movements and was a strong contrast to the romanticism seen in “Emeralds”. Still with the signature Balanchine style, this piece was stylised with leg and arm extensions, but this time, with quick pendulum-like swings and penchés as seen on the pas de deux. Flirtatious and racy, hip instigations – not frequently seen in classical ballets – were a recurrent motif, along with quick turns and fancy footwork. “Rubies” was perfectly suited for principal couple Ago Kondo and Brett Chynoweth who were as brilliant as the jewel itself, and Soloist Isabelle Dashwood who delivered a stunning performance.
The third part was “Diamonds,” set to music by Tchaikovsky, and a ballet that pays homage to the magnificence of Imperial Russia. This era and style reflects that of which Balanchine was himself trained in. As soon as the curtain was drawn up, the audience gasped once again as the ballerinas stood on stage in white and gold classical tutus in a space created for grandeur. Exuding beauty, grace and strength, this was a brilliant and refined piece performed immaculately by the artists and principal couple Benedicte Bemet and Joseph Caley who gave it their all. With opulent costumes and sets together with the choreography, the artists of The Australian Ballet displayed a refined and brilliant finale – an extravagant performance for its diamond anniversary.
Considering the audience’s engagement throughout, it was disheartening to see the theatre void of a standing ovation. Nevertheless, the audience applauded the performance in gratitude.
Be sure to catch Jewels in Melbourne from June 29 to July 8. For tickets, head to australianballet.com.au/performances/jewels.