The Berlin Premiere of Jewels by Choreographer George Balanchine

On May 21, Staatballett Berlin celebrated the premiere of Jewels by George Balanchine. Jewels is a three-act ballet created originally for the New York City Ballet by co-founder and founding choreographer George Balanchine. It premièred on Thursday, 13 April 1967, at the New York State Theater.

Jewels has been called the first full-length abstract ballet. It has three related movements: Emeralds, Rubies, and Diamonds. It can also be seen as three separate ballets, linked by their jewel-colored costumes. Balanchine commented: “The ballet had nothing to do with jewels. The dancers are just dressed like jewels.” Each of the three acts features the music of a different composer: Emeralds is set to the music of Gabriel Fauré, Rubies to the music of Igor Stravinsky and Diamonds to music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

For the original performance, the costumes were created by Balanchine’s long-time collaborator Barbara Karinska, who created a distinct look for each different act: romantic, calf-length tulle skirts for Emeralds, fabric that flared at the hips of both men and women in Rubies, and the flat, classical tutu of the Imperial Russian Ballet for Diamonds. The costumes were such finely crafted pieces of art in their own right that some of them have been exhibited in museums and in theatre lobbies. Even Claude Arpels of Van Cleef & Arpels - who suggested the idea of a ballet based on gems to the choreographer - was impressed with her attention to finding the finest trim that would accurately represent the true glitter of genuine gemstones. Additionally, Karinska’s painstaking work was credited with making the costumes last despite the sweat and strain of dancing in them. Her designs, needlework and choice in fabrics made them both durable and danceable, illustrating that the bodies inside the costumes were deserving of her utmost respect. When questioned about her attention to her almost extravagant detail she replied, “I sew for girls and boys who make my costumes dance; their bodies deserve my clothes.”

At the Berlin premiere, the wonderful costumes continued the tradition of Barbara Karinska, created by famous Spanish designer Lorenzo Caprile. The settings by Pepe Leal were equally impressive and inspiring, while the dancers in the leading roles were critically acclaimed.

Choreographer Giorgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze was born in 1904 in Saint Petersburg, into the family of noted Georgian opera singer and composer Meliton Balanchivadze, who was one of the founders of the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theater, and later served as the culture minister of the Democratic Republic of Georgia which became independent in 1918, but was later forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union. On a 1924 visit to Germany with the Soviet State Dancers, Balanchine, his wife, Tamara Geva, and dancers Alexandra Danilova and Nicholas Efimov fled to Paris, where there was a large Russian community. At this time, the Impresario Sergei Diaghilev invited Balanchine to join the Ballets Russes as a choreographer.

Diaghilev soon promoted Balanchine to ballet master of the company and encouraged his choreography. Balanchine insisted that his first project would be to establish a ballet school because he wanted to develop dancers who had the strong technique and style he wanted. With the assistance of Lincoln Kirstein and Edward Warburg the School of American Ballet opened to students on January 2, 1934, less than 3 months after Balanchine arrived in the U.S. Later that year, Balanchine had his students perform in a recital, where they premiered his new work Serenade to music by Tchaikovsky at the Warburg summer estate.

Between his ballet activities in the 1930s and 1940s, Balanchine choreographed for musical theater with such notables as Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart and Vernon Duke.

Soon Balanchine formed a new dance company, Ballet Society. He continued to work with contemporary composers such as Paul Hindermith, from whom he commissioned a score in 1940 for The Four Temperaments. First performed on November 20 1946, this modernist work was one of his early abstract and spare ballets, angular and very different in movement. After several successful performances, the most notable featuring the ballet Orpheus created in collaboration with Stravinsky and sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi, the City of New York offered the company residency at the NY City Center.

With his School of American Ballet, New York City Ballet, and 400 choreographed works, Balanchine transformed American dance and advanced modern ballet, developing a unique style with his dancers highlighted by brilliant exhibitions of speed and attack.

Lily Fürstenow

26 May 2016 14:56