Jewels

Jewels ballet. Choreography by George Balanchine. Music by Gabriel Fauré, Igor Stravinsky, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Performed 2006 by the Mariinsky Ballet Company.  Solo stars in the Emeralds part are Zhanna Ayupova, Denis Firsov, Daria Sukhorukova, Dmitry Semionov, Yana Selina, Xenia Ostreikovskaya, and Anton Korsakov; in Rubies, Irina Golub, Andrian Fadeyev, and Sofia Gumerova are the soloists; the soloists in Diamonds are Ulyana Lopatkina and Igor Zelensky. Tugan Sokhiev directs the Mariinsky Theater Orchestra. Rubies piano solo by Lyudmila Sveshnikova. Staging by Karin von Aroldingen, Sarah LeLand, Elyse Borne, and Sean Lavery; scenery by Peter Harvey, costumes by Karinska with recreation of costumes supervised by Holly Hines; original lighting by Roland Bates is executed by Perry Silvey; directed for TV by Brian Large.  Released  2011, has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound Grade: A

This is an abstract ballet in which Balanchine pays homage to various influences in his artistic life. The dancers are dressed first in green for the "Emeralds" number, then in red for "Rubies," and last in white for "Diamonds." Per Balanchine himself, the dances, without plot or props, have "no literary content at all."  My impression is that Balanchine might have been unconsciously inspired to honor in "Emeralds" the French origins of ballet, to salute the United States in "Rubies" for giving Balanchine a safe place to work, and to celebrate in "Diamonds" the Russian (Petipa) school of ballet where Balanchine got his start.

Jewels is considered to be a masterpiece of modern neoclassical dance. There is a legal entity called the George Balanchine Trust that arranges for production of Jewels in accordance with the "Balanchine Style."  This suggests that performances of this work will probably have a lot in common and few differences. At this date (April 2015) there have maybe been more than 150 productions of Jewels around the world (since its premiere in 1967). In other words, although this has been a successful and popular work, only a pitifully few people have been lucky enough to see it.

Before the release of subject title, there was only one complete video of Jewels. This was the performance by the Paris Opera Ballet in late 2005 released by Opus Arte in 2008 in Blu-ray. (There was also a DVD of this POB show from Opus Arte.)

Scenery is allowed for each part of Jewels. In the POB version the minimal scenery used was so cold as to be counter-productive. It would have been better leave the stage completely bare and rely on lighting for augmenting the mood of each ballet. At the Mariinsky, Peter Harvey did a much better job. He added side curtains that reduced the size of the stage. He also added interesting and luxurious jewel-like hangings that tend to "lower the ceiling." This together with clever painted backdrops and lighting transformed the stage into a thing of beauty itself and provided a cozy (rather than sterile and  forbidding) environment for the dancing. 

The Mariinsky dancers seem to me to be completely competitive with their French counterparts. In addition, the Mariinsky stars managed on occasion to sneak in some actual emotion into their dancing. These dashes of salt and pepper season the steak.

The Mariinsky video was made in 2006, which is long ago in the world of HDVD. The TV director was Brian Large, probably the most experienced videographer in the world at the time.

Here are several screenshots from "Emeralds", a dreamy segment. (I should point out now that the Mariinsky folks cut about 7 minutes of the Fauré music.)  We start with Large's opening shot of the whole stage and the beautiful set. The vast majority of the video shows whole-body views of the dancers:

And here's Large's closing shot from further away:

Below is one of a few near shots. In a story ballet, the TV director uses many more near and close-up angles (showing the acting skills of the dancers) than Large does here. The costumes in St Petersburg are very nice, but not quite as glamorous as the costumes Christian Croix designed in Paris. Here we see the pas de deux couple (whom I can't identify for sure):

After the dream state of "Emeralds", we are thrown into the raucous world of "Rubies". The lead goes to Sofia Gumerova, who is featured in the next three views:

But Irina Golub, whom we know well from the Mariinsky Nutcracker title in HDVD, steals the show. Golub oozes sex appeal from every pore and nothing can hide it:

Here's Irina and Andrian Fadeyev in a rare close up:

Here's Large's final view of "Rubies":

And now to the serenity of "Diamonds"; here the opening shot shows some of the building and the pit:

Ulyana Lopatkina and Igor Zelensky perform with regal eloquence:

A closing that Petipa himself would envy:

Now, suddenly, Large uses a camera on a high balcony to photograph the corps.  You can't run this risk (of exposing dancing errors) unless you have drilled your corps to perfection. I in turn was lucky to get this screenshot with 16 lords leaping:

The next three shots are sublime in every way:

In this shot the final curtain is already falling:

But there is a quick change of pose even as the curtain fall continues (note the chandelier is now obscured):

The music was performed very well by the Mariinsky Orchestra under Tugan Sokhiev, and the recording is very intimate and close.

Sum up: Jewels is a ballet that gets better each time you watch it. If you can only have one video of Jewels, the Mariinsky title is probably the one to buy.  It's technically as good or better than the Paris show, and it has elements of drama, mystery, and sex appeal that I don't detect in the competition.  This would be an  "A+" title except that there are enough motion defects to cause me to reduce the grade to "A." (This is still room for someone to come up with an A+ Jewels with no motion sickness.)