The Australian Ballet presents Jewels – a three-part Balanchine masterpiece set to premiere in Melbourne

TAB-Benedicte-Bemet-in Jewels--photo-by-Rainee-LantryFor the first time, The Australian Ballet will present audiences with Jewels – an opulent three-part ballet from one of the world’s most revered choreographers, George Balanchine at the State Theatre – Arts Centre Melbourne this June.

A work that is both soft and sharp, racy yet refined, flashy and majestic, Jewels is an ultimate showcase of ballet and a glamourous addition to The Australian Ballet’s diamond anniversary 60th-year celebrations.

“Some ballets, over the course of their time, create an aura of elegance and myth that holds up to our expectation of it,” said The Australian Ballet’s Artistic Director, David Hallberg.

“That is true with one of George Balanchine’s greatest masterpieces, Jewels. I am honoured to bring Jewels to the dancers and audiences of The Australian Ballet for the first time ever.”

Balanchine created Jewels in 1967, after visiting a Van Cleef & Arpels jewellery store on Fifth Avenue, New York. Over three acts, the ballet showcases three distinct facets of the balletic art form, each represented by a different precious stone: emeralds, rubies and diamonds.

“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 eye and an enormous opportunity for the dancers to tackle one of Balanchine’s greatest masterpieces,” said Hallberg.

In a twist on the traditional ballet form, this full-length, three-act piece is not a story ballet, but a plotless, abstract work which distils the artform to pure movement and mood and will showcase both the classical precision and stylistic versatility of The Australian Ballet’s dancers.

Each of Jewels’ three acts is distinct in style, set to music by three different composers: Gabriel Fauré for Emeralds, Igor Stravinsky for Rubies, Piotyr Illich Tchaikovsky for Diamonds.

The costumes for each ‘jewel’, designed by Balanchine’s legendary collaborator Barbara Karinska, are as equally important as the choreography, unifying each of the three sections to achieve one regal whole. The costumes have been re-created by The Australian Ballet’s wardrobe department to ensure every detail has been captured.

Utilising more than 18,000 jewels – all of which were individually hand sewn – The Australian Ballet was helped by volunteers from the Country Women’s Association and Embroidery Guild who spent two months sewing thousands of jewels onto fabric which was then placed onto the underlying costumes.

The sets for Jewels have been created by Peter Harvey, the original set designer for the world premiere by New York City Ballet in 1967, who has worked with The Australian Ballet’s production team on a revised version of his original sets made to Balanchine’s vision.

Emeralds opens the program in a nostalgic tone. In contrast to Balanchine’s signature dynamic movements, the choreography in this act is gentler, leaving room for moments of stillness. The ballerinas’ Romantic tutus in soft green evoke the iconic Parisian ballets of the 19th century, especially La Sylphide and Giselle.

The music for this piece also recalls the French Romantic era, selected from compositions by Gabriel Fauré for the plays Shylock by Edmond Haraucourt (1889) and Pelléas et Mélisande by Maurice Maeterlinck (1898).

Emeralds is a tribute to the rich heritage of ballet in France, home of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, where Balanchine worked as ballet master in the 1920s. Rubies moves the program into the 20th century, propelled by the jazz-inflected Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra by Balanchine’s most frequent collaborator, Igor Stravinsky.

The quirkiness, sass and wit of the choreography place the piece in Balanchine’s adopted home, New York City, but Rubies is a pure embodiment of the ground-breaking collaboration between Balanchine and Stravinsky. The two great artists met in France through Sergei Diaghilev, while Balanchine was working with the Ballets Russes.

Diamonds takes the ballet back to Balanchine’s childhood in Imperial Russia, evoking all the regal splendour of the Mariinsky Theatre, where Balanchine trained. The piece pays homage to the original choreographer-composer pairing of 19th-century ballet, Marius Petipa and Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Dressed in pristine white tutus, dancers execute classical steps to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 3 in D major, Op. 29, composed in 1875, shortly before Swan Lake. A spellbinding pas de deux references the quintessential romances of story ballets like Swan Lake and Raymonda.

Balanchine’s Jewels brings a modernist lustre to The Australian Ballet’s 60th anniversary season. Jewels has been entirely funded by the generous donors of The David Hallberg Fund.

The performance of Jewels, a Balanchine® Ballet, is presented by arrangement with The George Balanchine Trust and has been produced in accordance with the Balanchine Style® and Balanchine Technique® Service standards established and provided by the Trust.

State Theatre – Arts Centre Melbourne, St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Season: 29 June – 8 July 2023
Information and Bookings:

Image: Benedicte Bemet in Jewels – photo by Rainee Lantry