“Jewels”: an iconic, striking, dreamy, classical ballet, like no other…

David H. Koch building–Lincoln Center /Thursday September 19th, 2019.

Welcome back friends!

This week, a very different cultural universe awaits us; one featuring a unique, unbelievably poetic, yet plotless, classical NYCB ballet; filled nevertheless, with clusters of unusual, shimmering “fairy tales” extracted from romantic, lavish scores and art, from various horizons; and of course, displaying superb, passionate, pas de deux’, from a magnificent, scintillating, mythical, Balanchine masterpiece choreography, showcasing wonderful NYCB personalities, dancing to highly jeweled costumes, designed by iconic Karinska.

In short, welcome to classical ballet, at its finest.

Introducing “Jewels”, a stunning ballet, that will take your breath away!


But first, let me give you a bit of context:

“Jewels”, was first prefaced, overseas; in Paris, in 1947, with another mythical ballet, entitled “The Crystal Palace” (“Le Palais de Cristal”); which is also, such a dazzling and poetic name for a ballet.

It included an extra gem (pearls), and was danced to a different music, written by Bizet in his youth.

And I can’t think of a better location, than the City of light, and love, of course, to introduce this elegant, sophisticated, and worldly ballet, celebrating magnificently, shimmering gems and beauty.

This “Palais de Cristal” ballet, was then tightened up, musically, production wise, and in terms of choreography; and was renamed “Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds” when it was introduced in 1967, in New York.

And later, was finally, just simply referred to as, “Jewels”.

And believe it or not, but “Jewels” amazing, set designs, and costumes were inspired by genius, emblematic jewelry creators, Van Cleef and Arpels, true visionaries for their times, who patented in 1933, a brilliant stone setting technique, allowing exquisite gems, to be displayed with no visible mounting.

A breathtaking level of jewelry expertise, like no other “maison”.

In addition to their dazzling “savoir-faire”, the Van Cleef and Arpels jewelers, found inspiration for their designs, like many artists, in all sorts of realms: first of course, in the beauty of nature.

How wonderful and charming!

These jewelers also sought inspiration in other “beauty” spheres, such as fashion, paintings, ballet, and graceful poetry.

In short, in all sorts of art forms, from various eras, folklore and cultures…

In particular, two incredibly famous ballerinas, were celebrated in art:

“La Camargo”, a “star” of her time; an 18th century French ballerina, whom we can find depicted dancing, in this beautiful “Fête galante” like painting, by 18th century Nicolas Lancret, a talented student of world famous, Watteau: look at how much this other Van Cleef ballerina, is the spitting image of the magically evocative Lancret painting:

Incredible isn’t it?

And of course, Anna Pavlova, the most famous, iconic, late 19th-early 20th century imperial Russian ballerina, after dancing in London with Sergei Diaghilev’s company, for the first time, in the summer of 1910, was then, a year later, immortalized, in this beautiful painting by Sir John Lavery celebrating her role as a swan:

So delicately expressive, is it not?

And Balanchine himself also, was incredibly inspired for his “Jewels” choreography, by these dancers of course, and his own rich Russian background; and yet also, by one of Paris’ most beautiful visually astounding cultural treasures:

Not a dancer, sculpture or a painting.

But by a tapestry.

And one of my favorite ones, ever; symbolizing for many:

  • love
  • or understanding

One of the most arresting, magnificent and powerful pieces of art ever, (in my opinion), of incredible size, called “The lady and the Unicorn” (“La dame à la licorne”), a series of six huge tapestries woven in Flanders, from wool and silk, from designs “cartoons” drawn in Paris around 1500; and considered by many, as one of the greatest works of art of the Middle Ages in Europe.

Five of the tapestries, depict the five senses (taste, hearing, sight, smell, and touch).

And the sixth one, is the most enchanting of them all (in my opinion).

It displays, in addition to a wonderful composition, the mysterious and charming words “To my sole desire”( “A mon seul désir“), which of course, has many possible meanings, and I will let you readers, decide what it signifies to you (much more fun that way).

Yet, I can’t resist, mentioning a few things which particularly resonate for me, when observing this incredibly beautiful work of art.

In addition to the wonderfully bright and vivid, tints and textures of the tapestry, admire the amazing poetry and charm, of this masterpiece’s main symbols, which for me, evoke the qualities, this lady admires in love; and both of which, she evenly respects, and is drawn to:

  • a lion: representing her lover’s strength, courage and manliness
  • a unicorn: revealing her lover’s purity of heart

Also, let’s pay attention to her intricate wardrobe, and of course, her jewels (overflowing from a beautiful chest), representing both (to me, at least) her own (earthly) beauty and gracefulness; and let’s also observe, the rest of the fauna and flora in the background, speaking (to me) of celestial qualities: her love of nature’s eternal positive and strong regeneration, and speaking also, of this lady’s own creativity, playfulness, loyalty and spirituality.

Isn’t it jaw-droppingly gorgeous?

Let’s get back to Balanchine, and his “Jewels” ballet.

As he was tightening “Jewels”, Balanchine also decided to link each gem, to a specific score, to pay homage to three countries, which were very dear to him.

First, it is France, and its elegance and romantic character, that Balanchine celebrates, with his “Emeralds” gems.

A romantic, elegance enhanced by:

  • the set design (delicate morning dew drops hanging from spider webs)
  • the costume design: think long, light, airy tulle like green hued tutus
  • the romantic score by Fauré, in particular the excerpt of a moving “fairy tale” piece which I have loved since childhood, called “Pelléas et Mélisande”, celebrating in the excerpt chosen, the short, yet powerfully intense happiness, this “sicilienne” mouvement encapsulates, for the two “doomed” love birds. Reminiscent of love triangles found in “Tristan and Iseult”, or “Guenievre and Lancelot” romances; except that, in addition, in this instance, Mélisande is also a mermaid princess, oh boy! Additionally, Balanchine also chose from Fauré, excerpts from “Shylock”, a French verse adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice”, and I especially like the “Nocturne” mouvement.

And last night, I wasn’t particularly moved by the dancers performance, even though, I was especially looking forward to the wonderfully beautiful and graceful port de bras, which astound me every time…

Let’s watch a magical excerpt:

Of course, let’s get back to the most romantic fairy tale “Pelléas et Mélisande”: there are also other composers who wrote music to this doomed fairytale; which Balanchine could have chosen; (for example, Debussy, who was adapting the tale in an opera form, or Schoenberg, or Sibelius, who wrote their own versions; yet, I much prefer the French versions, I must say); and like Balanchine, I simply adore Fauré, so I think, that Fauré’s “Pelléas and Mélisande”, was the right choice by Balanchine, but he could have also alternatively, adapted Debussy’s “Pelléas and Mélisande” suite, which is also achingly beautiful, let me just share, the orchestral intro.

Let’s listen and dream:

Or, instead of the dark “Shylock” fairy tale, set beautifully to music by Fauré, nonetheless, Balanchine could have chosen also, an orchestral version of Debussy’s unbelievably romantic “Clair de lune”, to celebrate French romanticism and elegance.

Why not?

As the moon protects elegantly, all sorts of mermaids including joyful, imaginative, and charming ones.

Or, alternatively, Fauré wrote a short piece set to a beautiful Verlaine poem (from the Fête galante series), which Balanchine could have also chosen, for his “Emeralds”:

Let’s first, read the poem, which should be more optimistic than it is, about happiness, which can always be found, if one learns to go with the flow, and exudes from one’ soul, constant optimism, elegance, and charm, which bring so much joy!

Because, as Persian poet Rumi would say:

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” 

Let’s now, read Verlaine’s nevertheless, magnificent poem:

“Votre âme est un paysage choisi que vont charmant masques et bergamasques jouant du luth et dansant et quasi tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques. Tout en chantant sur le mode mineur L’amour vainqueur et la vie opportune, ils n’ont pas l’air de croire à leur bonheur. Et leur chanson se mêle au clair de lune, au calme clair de lune triste et beau, qui fait rêver les oiseaux dans les arbres. Et sangloter d’extase les jets d’eau, les grands jets d’eau sveltes parmi les marbres”.

Isn’t it beautiful?

Now, let’s listen to it, sang beautifully and elegantly by Dessay:

And of course, speaking of elegance, I particularly enjoy Sully Prudhomme’s (The first winner of Nobel prize of Literature in 1901, and French poet and essayist) quote about elegance, which sets it, in the realm of grace, for small matters; of dignity, for important matters; and always fills it with wit.

 “L’élégance dans les petites choses est simplement de la grâce; dans les grandes, c’est de la dignité; mais ce doit toujours être de l’esprit”.

Isn’t it so true?

How wonderful!

Let’s now observe, “Rubies”, the second piece of “Jewels”, which is dedicated to the United States, and celebrates with Stravinsky’s music (he had just become an American), a piece entitled “Capriccio” for piano and Orchestra, which speaks (for me), to America’s energy, enthusiasm, joy, freedom of speech, quirkiness, and modern take on life.

Of course, this, first brings to mind for me, silent movies, quirkiness, joy, simple happiness, and Chaplin’s “Modern Times” masterpiece.

Let’s watch the amazing trailer:

Isn’t it deliriously unique?

Let’s now focus on “Rubies”, the second Jewel piece; and first on its set design, and costumes:

The combination of the fabulous glittering, glowing, geometric “gem” set design, and the flaming red scintillating, more “risqué” mini skirts, evoke also, (for me), “flappers”, such as Zelda Fitzgerald, who inspired this beautiful quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald, in his world famous novel, “The other side of Paradise”:

“They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered.”

And “flappers” of course, also evoke “it girl”, Clara Bow, who rose to stardom in “silent” film during the roaring 20s; and successfully made the transition to “talkies” after 1927.

An actress, which the recent “The Artist” (2011) film by Hazanavicius, pays homage to, especially, in this short clip.

Let’s watch this enchanting dance audition scene:

Let’s now get back to” Rubies”, and discover a thrilling “Pas de deux”: Feisty, fiery and passionate, as the sanguine hue of these beautiful costumes:

And last night, it was the expressive, charming, and perky, principal dancer, Megan Fairchild, who captivated the audience, in this piece.

And last but not least, let’s now focus on the third and final spectacular and enchanting “Jewels” piece: “Diamonds”!

Brought to life musically, beautifully, by some fabulously imperial Tchaikovsky excerpts (symphony #3 in D major Op 29). Like many, I simply adore Tchaikovsky’s poetic work for classical ballet!

Reminiscent at times, also, (for me) of a lovely rainfall of scintillating snow, glittering in the sunlight.


Of course, one thinks also, of poetic Russian folk poems, such as the famous “Ruslan and Ludmila”, by Pushkin; which tells the (very long) story of the abduction of Ludmila, the daughter of Prince Vladimir, by an evil wizard; and the attempt by a brave knight, Ruslan, to find and rescue her.

Let’s watch an enchanting scene, from the Ptushko film, “Ruslan i Lyudmila” (1971), describing the evocative, magical, and fairy tale like poem:

Finally, I cannot watch “Diamonds”, without thinking of the majestic and awe-inducing joy, of watching Noureev/Nureyev dance and jump, which we can admire here, in this French clip.

In addition, we can also admire amazing jumps in this movie excerpt, of the recent Noureev biopic movie, “The White Crow” (2019), by Fiennes:

How about it?

Now, let’s finally watch, an actual clip, of the “Diamonds” classic and solemn Balanchine choreography:

And last night, principal dancer Sara Mearns, was particularly moving next to Russel Janzen, and allowed us both, to dream of the great and imperial Russia era…

What a treat!

And finally, of course, all of these “Jewels”, evoke for me, wonderfully entertaining movies about jewel heists. I won’t mention them all, but here are a few, I particularly enjoy:

The first one, is the recent “Ocean’s 8” by Ross (2018), where a devious charming thief, her side kick, and a group of “specialists”, devise the biggest jewelry heist of their lives; and that includes (for those of you who know what it looks like), stealing as well, Marie-Antoinette’s famous necklace, in addition to a few others, including the famous “Toussaint” necklace from Cartier.

Enjoy the trailer :

Of course, there is also Hitchcock’s wonderful thrilling take, on jewelry heists’, with “To Catch a Thief” (1955); and who can resist such charm, from these two love birds:

And let’s also point out, an enchanting James Bond “spoof”, with the “pulp” and zesty movie “Modesty Blaise”, from Losey (1966); about an exceptional spy; young, womanly, with many talents, in addition to her great beauty; with a criminal past (including, as a jewel thief), and often found, in the company of her trusty, and charming side kick, Willie Garvin.

And finally, let’s watch an excerpt from the wonderful “Fantomas”, by Hunnebelle (1964), with “costumed” Jean Marais, as the mysterious and dark thief, checking out jewelry here; and believe it or not, the jewels presented, are from Van Cleef and Arpels in this scene!


And all of these fun and eclectic movies, and other art masterpieces, just come to mind spontaneously, when watching unique and prestigious classical ballet, celebrating jewels, beauty, and majesty!

How wonderfully lucky are we, to be able to dream with such joy, thanks to Balanchine’s “Jewels”?

Just thrilling!








Eternal butterflies 😊