At San Francisco Ballet, George Balanchine's "Jewels" is a three part ballet, performed by three different casts, to the music of three different composers. They are frequently performed separately, but when done together as intended, they offer an evening of contrasting eras and styles, tied together by the unique vision of Balanchine.

"Emeralds" is danced to music from Gabriel Faure's "Pelleas et Melisande" and "Shylock." The backdrop is a vivid emerald green, there's a tiara above, and curtains to the sides. These design elements are present in some form or other in all three pieces. The ballerinas are all dressed in pale light green flowing skirts with deep green bodices that give a flowing feeling to the work. It's firmly rooted in 19th century Romanticism, but the muted flourishes and soft drum rolls remind me of French court dances of earlier centuries.

The work is performed by two couples, a trio, and corps. It opens with a lyrical pas de deux as the corps weaves around in a line across the stage. He carries her around behind the corps and lifts her dramatically with a flourish. She goes under the arms of the ensemble, he follows, and the group moves like a kaleidoscope out, around, and back in on itself. There are a lot of elegant lifts with no sharp edges whatsoever. Joanna Berman seems weightless as she's lifted and carried by Cyril Pierre. She flutters on pointe, while making grand sweeping gestures with her arms. The ballet has a strong emphasis on port de bras, and with it's understated flourishes has a very French, sort of impressionistic feel to it. There's a fluid mixing of soloists and groups, and dramatic pathos at the end, but all very soft.

"Rubies" is about as far from the other two as you can get. The design elements are similar, dazzling red costumes and a black star-studded backdrop to Stravinsky's "Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra." The jazzy syncopation makes the work fast and sassy everywhere. It opens with a line at the back, with Muriel Maffre in the center. She moves to the front kicking high, front and back, while the corps lifts and kicks in the background. Tina LeBlanc and Gonzalo Garcia do a fast, lively pas de deux as he lifts her and she kicks out to one side, then the other. This is fast everywhere with lots of bends, torso thrusts, wiggles, and shimmies. Four men hold Maffre in rotating arabesques. She steps out to the side, squats, rises into an arabesque, while she slowly revolves in a circle. She repeats it, and slides elegantly off stage. The corps forms sort of a high kicking chorus line, with a lot of hyperextension, spin, and lifts, as the entire body, both individual and group, move in relentless syncopated rhythm. The long legged Muriel Maffre is a commanding presence as she does high sweeping kicks straight over her head. The ballerina is six feet tall on pointe, and a full twelve feet from toe to toe in arabesque, as she kicks to the sky. "Rubies" is Balanchine at his most flippant, with a lot of what in Shakespeare, would be saucy asides, and is the perfect complement to the two ends of "Jewels."

"Diamonds" couldn't be more appropriately named. It's choreographed to the last three movements of Tchaikovsky's "Third Symphony." The ballerinas are all in white against a powder blue backdrop. This is Russian ballet in the grandest style. It's like an extension of "Swan Lake" with large groups moving through the center, then out. Yuan Yuan Tan and Roman Rykine coyly come together. It's like young love, tender, tentative, and very lyrical. He holds her in 3/4 arabesque, she swoops down to the floor with her leg extended straight up. He lifts her in several different positions and carries her. She does a lot of deep backbends into his arms as you feel the love grow between them. He fully extends, ecstatically leaping around the stage, she pirouettes on pointe, smooth and flowing, before they both go airborn to cap off the movement.

The finale is like the last act of "Swan Lake" with the large group and soloists, but where "Swan Lake" is defeat and redemption, this is exuberance and triumph. In the final pas de deux, these two have found love and happiness and it's all celebration. Take all the tragedy out of "Swan Lake" and you get "Diamonds..." just exuberance, triumph, and joy.

Neil Stulberg led the orchestra in this thoroughly enjoyable evening of Balanchine's "Jewels" in it's San Francisco Ballet premiere at The War Memorial Opera House. Ballet season continues through May 12.



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