George Balanchine co-founded the New York City Ballet and remained its artistic director for more than 35 years. Born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, he is widely regarded as the father of American ballet and one of the most influential choreographers of the 20th century. On its 60th anniversary, the Australian Ballet is performing his masterpiece Jewels at the Sydney Opera House, which is also celebrating its 50th year. The three-part ballet celebrates Balanchine’s vision of three jewels. This is the perfect vehicle for showcasing the astonishing breadth and depth of talent amongst the Australian Ballet’s dancers.

Inspired by the artistry of jewellery designer Claude Arpels, Balanchine chose the music of three very different composers to reveal the essence of each jewel. Visually and thematically structured around the motifs of Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds, the piece explores the idea of movement radiating from the body through each specific jewel.

Last night’s premiere of Jewels was simply spectacular. Once the audience was seated the curtain rose to the haunting strains of Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924), whose life and work bridged the eras of Romanticism and Impressionism. The ballet dancers were dressed in delicately beautiful costumes of the deepest green. This was Emeralds, a French Romantic ballet that conjures visions of elegance, comfort and grace. Emeralds is a tribute to the romantic ballet traditions of 19th-century France. Every dancer was exquisite but special mention must be made of First Principal Couple Sharni Spencer and Callum Linnane. Last seen dancing together in Romeo and Juliet by this reviewer, their palpable chemistry captured the essence of this romantic piece.

Photo: Alastair Muir

The pace picked up dramatically with Rubies, the second act. When the curtain rose, the audience gasped in wonderment at the stunning bright red costumes. What followed was a crisp, witty piece that epitomized the collaboration of Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971). Also born in Russia, Stravinsky is acknowledged as one of the great composers of the twentieth century. Rubies is a New York Jazz-Age-inspired work that is set to Stravinsky’s Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra. This sharp neo-classical piece features dynamic choreography and an atmosphere of old Hollywood glamour. The impish elements of the piece were delightfully inhabited by the astoundingly athletic Brett Chynoweth and his dance partner Ako Kondo. Soloist Isobelle Dashwood was another standout, in a piece that frequently had the audience laughing and clapping at the playful spectacle.

And finally, there was Diamonds, set to music by Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky (1840-1893). The full force of the Australian Ballet’s talents was on display for this piece, which recalls the order and grandeur of Imperial Russia and the Maryinsky Theater, where Balanchine was trained. Tchaikovsky studied at the Conservatory in St. Petersburg, where Balanchine later studied piano in addition to his studies in dance. One of the most popular and influential of all romantic composers, his work is expressive, melodic and grand in scale, with rich orchestrations, with creations such as Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and The Sleeping Beauty. Diamonds is a lavish ballet that pays homage to the grandeur and magnificence of Imperial Russia. Grandiose and masterful, Diamonds is an extravagant finale to Balanchine’s great opus and the Australian Ballet more than delivered. Perhaps the longest and loudest ovations of the night went to Joseph Caley and his dance partner Benedicte Bemet. However, it is impossible to pick one outstanding performance from the truly dazzling talent on display.

Making its world premiere at New York City Ballet in 1967, Jewels showcases Balanchine’s atmospheric musicality. These contrasting works explore his time in Paris, New York and St Petersburg through the harmony of music and the defining visual elements of colour, shape and silhouette. Opulent costumes and sets unify each of the three sections to achieve one regal whole.

This lavish work captures the Australian Ballet’s celebratory spirit in its milestone 60th anniversary year.

  • When: 4 – 20 May 2023
  • Where: Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House / Tubowgule
  • Purchase your tickets to Jewels here.