At first glance, the ballet, which first premiered in New York in the late sixties, does not seem to be an obvious choice for those of us who are not ballet aficionados. Lacking a plot, it falls under what for many is the admittedly scary sounding category of abstract ballet. But fear not, what the Staatsballett has to offer is much more than dancers prancing around in a slightly coordinated manner.
Balanchine, founder of the New York Ballet Company and worshipper of women – to wit ‘God made men to sing the praises of women. They are not equal to men: they are better’ – uses the dancers to tell stories in and of themselves. Split into three acts named after a different jewel, each part represents different styles of music and ballet that are also reflected in the stage design and sparkling costumes.
While we do not want to reveal too much, it is safe to say that Jewels represents a tour de force of modern ballet. The first, more lyrical, part is set to the music of Fauré (‘Emeralds’) and evokes the manicured lawns and high fashion of Marie Antoinette-era France. The second part (‘Rubies’) centers you in the New York jazz age, with the modern, lively music of Stravinsky and showcasing why Balanchine has been called the father of American Ballet. The grand finale, and really how could you end it any other way, is set to Tchaikovsky’s Third Symphony. The third act – ‘Diamonds,’ the most precious of jewels – offers a spectacular finish that pays tribute to both Balanchine’s Russian roots and his influence on ballet more broadly.
With Jewels, the skill and class of the Staatsballett was on full display, with each act giving its principals a chance to shine, stressing the breadth and talents of the whole corps. Iana Salenko’s stunning performance in the second act (‘Rubies’) will leave anyone astonished who has previously seen her in the more timid, classical roles of Giselle or Juliet. Equally, Mikhail Kaniskin is a formidable dancer and his grand finale in ‘Diamonds’ really drives home the world-class credentials of the Berlin Ballet. Indeed, the sheer physicality of the choreography and the grace with which the Staatsballett pulls it off definitely proves that ballerinas can be as tough as any crossfitter.
While the majority of Berliners might prefer the beats of Berghain or settling in for a beer and the latest episode of Tatort, sometimes, just sometimes, it is a good idea to make your way to the Deutsche Oper. Jewels, at least, with more performances to come at the Schiller Theater in the upcoming season, will leave a sparkle in your eye and offers a beautiful performance to remember.