San Francisco Ballet Review: Jewels
April 2, 2021 | Digital
Tied together by their source of inspiration – a collection by Van Cleef & Arpels – the three sections of George Balanchine’s Jewels echo the spirit and essence of each gem they represent. For those unfamiliar with the ballet or even ballet itself, Jewels also serves as Balanchine’s demonstration of distinct styles of a broader vernacular captured in the most glamorous way.
San Francisco Ballet’s digital presentation of this non-narrative full-length ballet is as sparkly and dynamic as we have come to expect from the Emeralds, Rubies, and Diamonds that grace the stage. Only the first part was captured for film this year, the other two taken from archival footage of performances in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
With Gabriel Fauré’s music as their accompaniment, Misa Kuranaga donning a crown that mimics the gilded ceiling-hung ornament and partner Angelo Greco open Emeralds flanked by a corps of ten women in vibrant verdant tutus of the romantic era.
Throughout this section, the mood is often tranquil, almost a reserved elegance with clean classical choreography, but there are a couple of perceived glimpses of tension that momentarily disrupt the flow. Yet they give way almost immediately to radiant faces – perhaps even more smiley than is characteristic of Emeralds; maybe these instances are reflections of the state of nerves and joy the dancers must be experiencing during this time of inconsistency in their typically rhythmic schedules.
Expression is achieved mostly by supple upper backs and the port de bras, most iconically in the solo originally created for the revered Violette Verdy. Kuranaga is light and fresh, a sure presence with meticulous attention to detail.
Also standout is a lively pas de trois danced by Wona Park, Julia Rowe, and Esteban Hernandez, all three adorning contagious smiles while singing the music with their bodies. They move beautifully as one while in trio and also have a chance to shine in each of their short solos.
A stark contrast to Emeralds in so many ways, the imminent chords of Igor Stravinsky’s Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra herald the beginning of the jazzy, hip-sinking Rubies.
The opening pose is expansive and angular, as take charge as the first notes: thirteen dancers with legs crossed in wide fourth positions, fingertips touching to create a series of Xs that span the width of the stage with Wanting Zhao dominating at the tip of the V. Zhao has a commanding femininity that reads as composed sensuality accompanying her long extensions and control.
Mathilde Froustey and Pascal Molat have wonderful chemistry in their pas de deux, although Frousty lacks the squareness of body angles and tightness in musicality, two qualities that often define this particular movement. She also gravitates toward coquettish on the sassy scale at times incongruent to the overall dynamic of the piece. Molat soars playful and energetic as he bounds and lunges leading his male companions.
A nod to the opulence and romanticism of Imperial Russian ballet, even the ranking structure of the dancers in Diamonds is traditional. As the principal couple, Sasha De Sola and Tiit Helimets are as regal as Peter Tchaikovsky’s score at the helm of the dozens of soloists and corps de ballet members that make up the cast; at this magnitude, it’s no wonder that Diamonds is often performed independent of the other two sections.
Mixed in with the purest of classical choreography and welcomingly disruptive to the sometimes more stoic stances are De Sola’s luxurious off-balance développés and the moments of release in her and Helimets’ pas de deux.
Keeping with the custom of many of the greatest classics, Diamonds also includes a courtly polonaise to open the finale that makes me smile no matter how many times I see it.
San Francisco Ballet’s Jewels is available to stream through April 21, 2021.
San Francisco Ballet Jewels Review Trailer
Featured Photo for this San Francisco Ballet Jewels review of the Company in Balanchine’s Rubies // Choreography by George Balanchine © The Balanchine Trust; Photo © Erik Tomasson
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