Balanchine’s “Jewels” – A Brief History

Written by Robyn Jutsum

We’re all about keeping our community strong and positive as we slowly inch nearer to the end of what may feel like the longest year ever. And we truly have so much to look forward to throughout November! We are welcoming Christine, our newest instructor, to our team, hosting our monthly Ballet for a Cause class on November 27th, and coming up next weekend, Sips and Clips on November 15th. With so much excitement, it is fitting that this month’s theme, Jewels, is equally as thrilling!

Jewels premiered on April 13th, 1967 at the New York State Theater. Created for New York City Ballet, the ballet is a plotless three-act ballet representing three different jewels: emeralds, rubies, and diamonds. Considered the first full-length abstract ballet, each jewel’s act is set to music by different composers. Emeralds to Gabriel Fauré, Rubies to Igor Stravinsky, and Diamonds to Pyotr Tchaikovsky.

The original cast featured many iconic names from New York City Ballet:
Emeralds was performed by Violette Verdy, Mimi Paul, Sara Leland, Suki Schorer, Conrad Ludlow, Francisco Moncion, and John Prinz. Rubies was performed by Patricia McBride, Patricia Neary, and Edward Villella. Diamonds featured Suzanne Farrell and Jacques d’Amboise. It is often noted that these dancers made the ballet what it is, brought it to life, as their persons reflected the essence of each jewel.

The ballet’s initial concept was rooted in the first production of Balanchine’s Symphony in C back in 1947. At the time, the ballet was christened Le Palais de Cristal, inspired by Balanchine’s visit to the world-renowned French jewelers, Van Cleef & Arpels.

Each jewel is described as follows by the New York City Ballet:
Emeralds moves at Fauré’s mesmerizing pace, while Rubies races like lightning through Stravinsky’s jazz-inflected capriccio. With its symphonic Tschaikovsky score, Diamonds venerates the regality of Balanchine’s classical heritage.”

Balanchine specifically described Emeralds as a representation of French elegance, stating that Emeralds is “an evocation of France – a France of elegance, comfort, dress, perfume” (from The George Balanchine Trust). Rubies is a classic representation of Balanchine’s collaboration with Stravinsky. Balanchine and Stravinsky had a strong artistic relationship that has resulted in some of Balanchine’s most recognized works including Agon, Apollo, and Firebird. Diamonds is considered an ode to imperial Russia and its grandiose.

The costumes were designed by NYCB’s famed costumer, Barbara Karinska. Each act is distinct not only in music and movement but also in dress. Women in Emeralds wear Romantic tutus of you guessed it, emerald green. The women of Rubies wear ruby red leotards with attached skater type skirts that flare at the hips. The style of the Rubies costumes is very common in many of Balanchine’s ballets. Diamonds is the most classical, with the woman wearing a Classical tutu and the man in white tights.

San Francisco Ballet’s blog offers an “ultimate guide” to the ballet which eloquently breaks down each jewel. I recommend exploring the ballet further with the help of this guide which you can find here.

The ballet is highly revered internationally, and many companies include it in their repertoires. In 2017, an international production of Jewels was performed at Lincoln Center in the David H. Koch Theater to celebrate 50 years of the ballet. This production brought together New York City Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, and the Paris Opera Ballet. Paris Opera Ballet’s dancers performed Emeralds, City Ballet performed Rubies, and the Bolshoi performed Diamonds. The NY Times long-time dance critic, Alaistair Macaulay wrote a full review of one of the collaborative cast’s performances which you can read here.

Balanchine repetiteur, Elyse Borne, expresses the essence of what the audience can expect from an evening experiencing Jewels. The choreographic triptych “is like a nice meal. You’ve got your appetizer, you’ve got your main course, and you’ve got your big dessert at the end, which is Diamonds.”

Join us next Sunday, November 15th at 6 pm EST for Sips and Clips, our free monthly viewing party, where we will watch clips from Jewels and discuss further its history and impact.

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