The sylvan glade romanticism of “Emeralds,” the electrical power of “Rubies,” the glittering imperial courtroom of “Diamonds.” These are the three components of George Balanchine’s “Jewels,” from 1967, usually described as the primary full-length plotless ballet. On Tuesday, New York City Ballet will open its 75th anniversary season with “Jewels,” and a tribute to all of the dancers who make up the corporate’s historical past.
That’s becoming as a result of “Jewels” was Balanchine’s tribute to his dancers of that point: to the enchanting magnificence of Violette Verdy and Mimi Paul in “Emeralds”; the insouciant charms and road smarts of Patricia McBride and Edward Villella in “Rubies”; and the grand glamour of Suzanne Farrell and Jacques d’Amboise in “Emeralds.”
The concept was born over dinner on the violinist Nathan Milstein’s residence, the place Balanchine and Claude Arpels, from the Parisian jewellery agency Van Cleef & Arpels, had been each friends. Balanchine, eager to create larger-scale work for the corporate’s new residence at Lincoln Middle, preferred the concept of dancers as beautiful gems, and maybe hoped for sponsorship. (It didn’t occur.)
“Jewels” begins with an ode to French romanticism in “Emeralds,” set to Fauré. Then comes “Rubies,” an exuberant, witty illustration of the angular modernism that the Russian-born Balanchine developed in New York, set to Stravinsky. Lastly “Diamonds,” set to Tchaikovsky, evokes the grand imperial style of late Nineteenth-century Russian classicism.
It’s a mini-history of ballet, and a portrait of Balanchine’s life in dance, which started on the Imperial Theater College in St. Petersburg; had chapters in France with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and the Paris Opera Ballet; and located its fullest expression in New York, the place with Lincoln Kirstein, he based the College of American Ballet in 1934, and Metropolis Ballet in 1948.
“It was a threat,” mentioned Barbara Horgan, the choreographer’s longtime assistant. “We didn’t actually do full-lengths. However I feel he was anxious to make a blockbuster and herald audiences.”
The audiences got here — and the work’s title got here a bit later. In a New York Times review after the premiere in April 1967, Clive Barnes referred to the three components as “The Jewels,” including, the ballet “must be referred to as one thing.” (He additionally provided an alternate: “The Bits of Coloured Glass.”) By the point it opened the winter season in November 1967, it was formally “Jewels.”
In interviews, 5 of the unique forged members talked about their reminiscences of making the ballet with Balanchine. Listed here are edited excerpts from the conversations.
At my first rehearsal, Balanchine requested the pianist Gordon Boelzner to play two sections of the Fauré music. I knew the melody of the Sicilienne variation [from “Pelléas et Mélisande] as a result of the classical radio station I listened to performed it as their signature, so I mentioned, “I like that one.” Balanchine mentioned, “That is going to be very particular for you.”
We walked to the again nook, and he began. Basically you tried to imitate what he was exhibiting you. He didn’t speak about a lot, however I bear in mind him saying I ought to consider strolling on a tightrope, putting every foot very intentionally in entrance of the opposite, by no means having each toes on the ground on the similar second. It was like a strolling meditation. He was very accommodating. If one thing felt awkward, he would change it. Typically he let me invent, which I cherished to do.
I feel he noticed a facet of who I used to be at that time. I used to be quiet and introverted, somebody who labored by myself loads. It’s not that he drew one thing out of me; extra that he noticed one thing in me. I felt extraordinarily free.
I felt it was actually me onstage within the pas de trois of “Emeralds.” Balanchine knew his dancers so properly. He knew what our mother and father did, how we had been raised. He would get you speaking, not asking direct questions, however he was curious. With Violette Verdy, he actually used her French port de bras and musicality, and gave her numerous freedom in that half.
I bear in mind a stage rehearsal, near the premiere, the place Violette mentioned, “Mr. B., you haven’t choreographed the finale.” He mentioned, “Oh, I forgot.” He rapidly put it collectively and we needed to attempt to bear in mind it! Later he added a piece to “Emeralds,” and the tip completely modified.
Rubies: Off-balance, with a humorousness
Balanchine demonstrated so fantastically, with all those hippy, turned in movements, and exhibiting us the off-balance partnering. He labored very calmly and quietly, you could possibly barely hear him discuss, and he was very mild. I used to be all the time just a little nervous about maintaining with Mr. B., however we had been fairly relaxed collectively.
The off-balance stuff is hard, however when you received the musicality, that will assist you. Mr. B. was actually particular with the counts; he was all the time very exact with Stravinsky’s music. It’s mind-boggling to grasp the totally different counts when the corps is doing one factor, and the principals are doing one thing else. It’s unbelievable how his thoughts may work in that method.
He by no means mentioned “smile right here” or something, however within the pas de deux, he mentioned, “Make your legs indignant,” so I pounded my legs for that opening, stamp, stamp, stamp, down into the music. He let me be me. I assumed it was a really glamorous function.
Once we began to work on “Rubies,” I assumed, Oh my goodness, this has a humorousness! Balanchine mentioned to me, “You’re the jockey, and Patty is the showgirl,” and the humor within the ballet stored evolving. Within the third motion there’s a part the place 4 guys chase the principal man across the stage, and it was a lot like me. I used to be all the time playing around and laughing. I was a tough guy from Queens, an oddity who had jumped ship at maritime school, and I used to be so completely happy to be dancing.
Balanchine would spend years listening to scores. You’ll hear him, within the theater, taking scores aside, one observe at a time, on the piano. When he got here into the rehearsal room, it was by no means tense, as a result of he was completely ready and he knew us. All the pieces in our pas de deux was shock, shock, shock. It was very tough as a associate, there have been so many unseen, extraordinary concepts. However I mentioned to myself, He trusts me with this.
Diamonds: Grandeur with out tragedy
Balanchine requested me if I had a desire about which jewel I needed to be. I advised the Stravinsky part, and he mentioned, “I feel I would like you to be the diamond.” On the primary day, he didn’t know begin the pas de deux, so we started within the heart. Later he added the doorway. The pas de deux has a diamond-like prism effect, numerous separating and coming again collectively. At one level we really make a diamond form. It’s so ingenious. There isn’t any competitors between the person and girl within the pas de deux; it’s simply two individuals coming collectively and doing one thing that neither may do alone, and making it extra exalted. It’s gloriously resolved, there is no such thing as a tragedy.
It was the one tutu ballet that Balanchine ever made on me, and I cherished the sensation of grandeur he created by way of the music. I significantly love the polonaise; there may be nothing like Mr. B., Tchaikovsky and a polonaise!
I really feel that what hyperlinks the three ballets in “Jewels” is the bourrée [a series of tiny gliding steps done on pointe]. They’re totally different in every bit — languid in “Emeralds,” prancing in “Rubies,” and extra like stylized walks in “Diamonds. Nobody ever applauds for a bourrée, however right here they maintain the ballet collectively.