Ballet Stars

All That Glitters: 50 Years Later, Balanchine's "Jewels" Still Shines

NYCB in "Rubies." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

"The whole thing was—I like jewels," the choreographer George Balanchine told an interviewer in the spring of 1967, when asked about his newest creation for New York City Ballet, a triptych called—what else?—Jewels. He had his photograph taken while gazing appreciatively at Van Cleef & Arpels designs, or surrounded by ballerinas wearing bejeweled headpieces and gem-toned costumes by Karinska. Balanchine had an instinct for promotion; the ballet was a huge success and is still regularly performed by NYCB and other companies around the world. At the Lincoln Center Festival this summer (July 20–23), 50 years after the first performance, three companies—the Paris Opéra Ballet, NYCB and the Bolshoi Ballet—will join together to perform it in a single night. The French will dance "Emeralds." On different nights, the Russians and the Americans will alternate in "Rubies" and "Diamonds."

This seems appropriate, as each of Jewels' sections alludes to a different style of ballet: French, American, Russian. Ballet was born in France. More importantly, France is where Romantic ballet, with its feather-light technique and delicate, wafting arms, was refined. (Think La Sylphide and Giselle.) The next chapter of its development took place in Russia, where ballet acquired its grandeur, thanks to the imagination of Marius Petipa and the splendor of the Imperial Theatres. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, this world disappeared. Balanchine, along with many others, left the country, bringing his ideas about ballet to Europe and later to America, or, more precisely, to New York City.



Laetitia Pujol and Karl Paquette in "Emeralds." Photo by Sebastien Mathé, Courtesy Lincoln Center.


Each of these microcosms of ballet's history finds its reflection in Jewels. Romanticism and mystery infuse the atmosphere of "Emeralds." The women are sylphs, ladies-in-waiting, water nymphs. One of its central roles was created for the French ballerina Violette Verdy, who said that the movement reminded her of waves and the tides. "Rubies," the middle work, is jazzy and brash (and unabashedly sexy). Its pas de deux, with its tango and prancing, was made for Patricia McBride and Edward Villella, dancers of great insouciance and charm. Suzanne Farrell, for whom Balanchine created the central role in "Diamonds," spoke of that ballet's "austere, crystalline beauty," like a palace in a forgotten kingdom. It will be fascinating to see these ballets performed by dancers who reflect each facet of ballet's history and style.


Bolshoi Ballet's Alyona Kovalyova and Jacopo Tissi in "Diamonds." Photo by Damir Yusupov, Courtesy Lincoln Center.


Balanchine, too, had direct links to all three countries, and was influenced by them. As a 6-year-old pupil at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg, he had appeared onstage as a tiny Cupid in Petipa's Sleeping Beauty. In the book Balanchine's Tchaikovsky he recalls the "indescribable ecstasy" he felt, surrounded by the blue and gold of the theater and the music of Tchaikovsky. After the revolution, he honed his craft in Paris as a choreographer for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. It was there that he made Apollo, a ballet that would set him on the path of modernism. Also in France, he met Igor Stravinsky, the composer with whom he would forge his most intense and lasting collaboration, and Lincoln Kirstein, the man who would bring him to New York.

It is fitting that "Rubies," the most "American" of Jewels' sections, should be set to Stravinsky, a composer whose music is as angular and glinting as the spire of the Chrysler Building. The music for "Emeralds," by Gabriel Fauré, is gauzy and aquatic. Like Balanchine's choreography in that section, it seems to exist in a state of suspended time. And whom else could Balanchine choose for his grand finale but Pyotr Tchaikovsky, the composer he most closely associated with the lost world of the Imperial Ballet? "My feelings for Tchaikovsky were different, even as a child," he told the musicologist Solomon Volkov. "Imagine yourself in a church and suddenly the organ starts playing overwhelmingly grand music in all its register. And you stand there mouth agape in astonishment. That's how I always felt about Tchaikovsky."

So it turns out that sometimes a jewel isn't just a jewel; sometimes it contains an entire world, or three.

Ballet Careers
Roderick Phifer in Trey McIntyre's The Boogeyman . Bill Hebert, Courtesy BalletX.

This is one of a series of stories on recent graduates' on-campus experiences—and the connections they made that jump-started their dance careers. Roderick Phifer graduated from University of the Arts with a BFA in dance in 2017.

While walking out of a technique class during the first semester of his senior year at Philadelphia's University of the Arts, Roderick Phifer was approached with an unexpected offer. BalletX needed a guest artist for an upcoming performance, and after seeing Phifer perform in one of his senior shows, a UArts alumnus dancing with the company had offered up his name. Phifer ran straight from his technique class to a company class with BalletX, and the troupe's artistic leadership quickly gave him the green light to perform. "It was so last-minute, that, I kid you not, I had three rehearsals," he says. He performed with BalletX as a guest artist that fall, auditioned for an open company position in the spring and had a contract by the end of his senior year.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Rock School
From left: Sarah Lapointe, Derek Dunn and Jeanette Kakareka. Courtesy The Rock School

For more than five decades, The Rock School for Dance Education has been launching young dancers into professional ballet careers around the globe. Boasting distinguished alumni such as Beckanne Sisk, Michaela DePrince and Taylor Stanley, the Philadelphia-based institution has garnered a well-deserved reputation for pairing rigorous training with a tight-knit, welcoming community. Their summer intensives are no different, with a wealth of prestigious faculty members, many of whom are Rock School alums currently dancing at companies around the world.

What inspires busy pros to keep returning to their alma mater? We talked to three of The Rock School's buzziest alums about why they make it a priority to come back and teach:

Keep reading... Show less
Viral Videos

In this video ThePointeShop's Josephine Lee may not be giving her usual pointe shoe advice, but she is putting pointe shoes to good use... in the classic wedding shoe game. She plays with newly engaged Ballet West dancers Beckanne Sisk and Chase O'Connell to find out how well the couple knows each other.

Keep reading... Show less
Courtesy Apolla

Ballet dancers today are asked to do more with their bodies than ever before. The physical demands of a ballet career can take an immense toll on a dancer's joints and muscles—subjecting them to pain, inflammation and an increased risk of injury. Considering all that is required of today's dancers, having a top-notch recovery regime is paramount.

Enter Apolla Performance Wear, which is meeting ballet's physical demands with a line of compression footwear that is speeding up the recovery process for professional dancers by reducing inflammation and stabilizing the joints.

Keep reading... Show less