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Jewels, by the Paris Opera Ballet, arrived in the mail last week and I viewed it last night. I was a little disappointed in the cinematography. It should be noted many ballet DVDs suffer from a lack of creative camera angles and far too many views from the mezzanine. When I watch ballet I like to focus on the couple; not so much the patterns created on stage. The sets and costumes were 1st rate.
As for the dancing, I was very pleased with Emeralds and Diamonds but not so much with Rubies-Why I bought the DVD in the 1st place! It's my favorite part of Jewels and never filmed before POB to the best of my knowledge. For some reason, NYCB only presented Emeralds and Diamonds for its DVD. Aurélie Dupont did not live up to the daring or playfulness required for the role. I would have much preferred to see Heather Ogden of the National Ballet of Canada!
I still recommend the DVD. There's a lovely bonus in the form of a documentary and colorful booklet. Note: It's all in French for the exception of interviews with the Chairwoman of the Balanchine Foundation, Barbara Horgan. There are subtitles.
* I'm glad I purchased it early. The ballet is no longer available via Amazon.
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65 of 70 people found the following review helpful
SplendidJune 25 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
This is an excellent performance of Balanchine's last full-evening entertainement (Coppelia came later but it was a collaborative effort with Danilova and anchored in Saint-Leon). "Emeralds", "Rubies", and "Diamonds", contrast stylistically with each other to provide a varied evening of dance, the common thread being perhaps a pervasive aura of elegance, luxury and beauty, but otherwise the pieces do not relate to each other. Indeed they have been performed as stand-alone items; I saw the Paris Opera Ballet in the '70's perform Rubies which they then called Capriccio, Stravinsky's title for the music. It was a different generation of dancers. It gives great pleasure to see some of the children of dancers active with the company then performing in the current DVD.
The ballet has never looked better. It seems to truly belong in a magnificent jewel box, and none better than the Palais Garnier. The choreography seems to fit the company like a glove. French technique traditionally has emphasized clarity of movement. These long-limbed dancers (and they all seem long-limbed, male and female) delineate Balanchine's movements as a jewel cutter carves the facets of a stone. They are always musical: indeed they offer live demonstration of Balanchine's ideal to "hear the steps and see the music."
"Emeralds," the first item, set to music by Faure, is probably my personal favorite. The beautiful and French Violette Verdy on whom the role was created in 1967 was memorable in it. The piece seems tailor-made for these Paris dancers of today. Technically flawless, projecting the elegance and subtlety in Faure's music, one can only sit back and wonder at the great, understated beauty of the piece, the quietly eloquent performance by these dancers. This alone is worth the purchase price.
"Rubies" is a spunky setting of Stravinsky's Cappriccio for Piano and Orchestra. In my mind, no soloists have ever topped the originals: Patricia McBride and Edward Vilella. Nonetheless, the French do it very well, perhaps more "boulevard" than "vaudeville." In fact, they can't swing and strut their hips in quite the way American dancers do, but this does not detract from their virtuoso performance: it gives it a different accent.
"Diamonds" closes the evening with music from Tchaikovsky's Symphony #3. Until this performance, I always felt it to be the least effective of the three. Somehow it always evoked memories of Balanchine's own older and arguably more interesting "Theme and Variations," and suffered by comparison. Furthermore, the ballerina role was engraved in my mind by Suzanne Farrell, how she would move, balance and tilt, the expression in her face, her arms, how her fingers would arch. Well, I experienced an epiphany. For the first time ever after many years of seeing "Diamonds," I have truly appreciated the piece on its own terms and left past associations behind. It is a marvelous ballet, perfectly structured, with fascinating patterns and combinations, and certainly a festive way with which to close an evening. Agnes Letestu as the ballerina establishes the role as her own, imposing her line, her style, her vision on a part so vividly etched in the memory of many by somebody else. She is magnificent. Everything works for me in this version of "Diamonds" that just quite never had before, Farrell aside.
The production shines. The costumes by Christian Lacroix are elegant and support, not overwhelm, the dance as his designs at times do. The decor is minimalist and cool, suggesting the glitter of the stones, the brilliance of the dance.
There's a documentary which includes commentary by dancers and a rare appearance by Barbara Horgan who worked closely with Balanchine and whom Balanchine himself entrusted with the preservation of the integrity with which his choreographies are danced.
There are not many opportunities to see Jewels, one of Balanchine's later great creations. It's a big ballet, hard to dance, and in the rep of very few companies: to mind, in addition to Paris, only New York and Miami City Ballets perform it with some regularity. The excerpts in the "Choreography by Balanchine" DVD's consist of a truncated Emeralds and the pas-de-deux from Diamonds, danced by Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins; nothing from Rubies. To my knowledge there is no other DVD of the whole work other than this great performance by the Paris Opera Ballet.
By all accounts, Balanchine always loved Paris. One of his greatest masterpieces, Palais de Cristal (known in America as Symphony in C, to Bizet's score) was created for the Paris Opera Ballet in the immediate post-WWII period. The Paris Opera Ballet itself has always had very cooperative relations with New York City Ballet, not only through the work of Balanchine but Jerome Robbins as well. One has to rejoice at seeing love so warmly returned in such a splendid performance of Jewels.
This is a DVD to treasure.
41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
"Jewels" the New Standard of ExcellenceJuly 25 2006
Edward A. Perez
- Published on Amazon.com
Los Angeles Times dance critic Lewis Segal says that "Jewels," George Balanchine's storyless three ballets-in-one, has become "The Mt. Everest of 20th century ballet, the jewel in the crown, the work that major companies must conquer in order to define their mastery" and has replaced "Swan Lake" as the ". . . enduring standard of excellence. . . ." I think Mr. Segal is correct. The prowess of the Paris Opera Ballet on this DVD shows that this is a dance company which performs at the highest levels of proficiency and authenticity; it has scaled Mt. Everest.
Other reviewers of this DVD have for the most part focused their criticisms on the solo dancers. These reviewers praise the principals for their technical capabilities and how well they execute Mr. B's steps. But Balanchine also demanded that the ensemble dancers exhibit a high level of classical technique and do the steps he intended. The corps of the Paris Opera Ballet do justice to Balanchine's choreography. When I go to see a ballet or when I view a recording of a ballet, I often watch the ensemble dancers more than the soloists. The corps of this troupe is among the best.
In "Emeralds," ten corps women do various steps that complement the dancing of the soloists. For Balanchine, every dancer on stage is an integral, essential part of the dance. The corps de ballet is not for him simply backdrop or scenery for the main event; it actively participates and performs moves that other choreographers only give to principal dancers. The corps women spend a lot of time up on pointe: the most common step is pas de bourree couru and they do it beautifully. As for the principals, Laetitia Pujol is fluid in attack but is trifle too emotive. "Don't act," Balanchine advised his dancers, "just do the steps!" Clairemarie Osta and Kader Belarbi do the steps all right, but they can't seem to walk on the beat of the music as they enter and exit in their "Nocturne" pas de deux. Both soloists and corps do considerable off-pointe walking. In one sequence the women and soloists move "through the arches" of the up-raised arms of the corps women. A fast-paced pas de trois, rendered suavely and persuasively by Eleonora Abbegnato, Nolwenn Daniel, and Emmanuel Thibault, provides a shift in mood and in choreography from the more relaxed and lyrical romanticism that dominates most of the ballet.
"Rubies" is hot, quicksilver dancing for soloists and ensemble alike. Many balletomanes and critics suggest that "Rubies" is representative of America. The principal dancers themselves and ballet director Brigitte Lefevre allude to this, calling the ballet an "American musical comedy" with Broadway overtones. Perhaps. The music and choreography are not by native-born denizens of Tin-Pan Alley but by two classically trained Russian émigrés. Balanchine said he only tried to express Stravinsky's music. Etoile Aurelie Dupont rightly points out that this ballet is still modern, forward-looking, and "multifaceted." Balanchine liked to say that ballet is woman; but in "Rubies," ballet is man and woman, separate and equal entities. Soloist Alessio Carbone is not just a cavalier whose sole function is to support the ballerina and stand behind her inconspicuously. The woman in this ballet is not a princess who is put up on a pedestal to be admired by her consort. "Rubies" showcases male bravura dancing and Carbone is equal to the task. In this neoclassical abstraction, the speed and agility of the dancers are tested. Scoring high marks is the most Balanchine-like principal, Marie-Agnes Gillot. She dances as the leader of the corps of eight women and four men and is never on stage alone except for a brief moment at the end of the second ensemble section. As the corps prepares to strut off into the wings, she slides into an open leg position that immediately becomes a plie, does an arabesque-penchee, turns, does another arabesque-penchee, slides again into the split leg position with subsequent plie, followed by a third penche arabesque, turns again, and exits. At times she and the ensemble execute the same steps simultaneously while on other occasions she and the corps do a type of contrapuntal dancing. In this ballet we also get to see all of the female dancers' legs without the encumbrances of either romantic or classical tutus. Gillot and Dupont have long shapely legs and they use them to great effect by executing high kicks(front and back), impressive extensions, and other complex moves. Both have very beautiful "singing legs." The tune they sing, though, is not an aria but an Ella Fitzgerald scat.
In "Diamonds" Balanchine honors Petipa and Ivanov, the renowned choreographers of the late 19th century Russian Imperial Theaters. The corps women, used more extensively in "Diamonds" than in the other two ballets, demonstrate just how adroit, delicate, and artful their ensemble dancing is. The first scherzo of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 3 (2nd movement) features an all female corps of twelve ensemble dancers plus two soloists. These "ballet blanc" women, clad in white classical tutus are swan maidens: they thrust out their chests, wave their arms, and nicely reel off some grands battements, emboite moves, and turns of various types. They also do a good deal of walking and running. Incidentally, Balanchine always considered walking and running legitimate ballet steps and not just transitions from one step to another. Arlene Croce says that in "Jewels," "The choreography 's binding theme is walking . . . a theme that bridges the evening's three sections." In the second scherzo (Tchaikovsky's 4th movement), four demi-soloists do pique arabesque moves, pas de chat, chaine turns, and pique tours in addition to other steps too numerous to mention. I haven't counted the number of separate steps but it seems as if "Diamonds" has more steps in it than most full-length 19th century narrative ballets. The final movement (Tchaikovsky's 5th movement, a polonaise) looks a lot like the entrance and procession of the royal court and fairy-tale characters in "Sleeping Beauty" (danced to another Tchaikovsky polonaise). Agnes Letestu, the female lead in "Diamonds," confirms that there are many other references to "Sleeping Beauty" in this ballet. The finale fills the stage with 32 corps dancers and two soloists. In this emotionally charged dramatic ending, we see the women in classic rows with the men at the sides; they unite with their partners with kneeling, rising, promenading, and spinning galore. The finale ends with rows of men and women striking various poses in slow 3/4 time and then as the music speeds up to the original tempo, the dancers form an inverted V wedge in which the ensemble women are in a tendu pose while the men kneel beside them. The soloists are centered in the V wedge holding the same pose as the corps as the music concludes. Every time I see this majestic ending, I feel a joyous passion aroused by the interplay of great music and of beautiful bodies in motion. Balanchine knew precisely the emotional effect that filling the stage with a large number of dancers would have on the audience. Lincoln Kirstein said that it was "one of the best examples of Balanchine's applause-machines."
The Orchestra of the Opera national de Paris led by Paul Connelly gives us polished musical gems. The Stravinsky piano concerto, "Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra," is a sheer delight. The pianist (Jean-Yves Sebillotte) and the woodwind players are noteworthy for the transparency of their playing and how deftly they articulate the nuances of Stravinsky's score.
A documentary of Balanchine and his style ("George Balanchine Forever") by Reiner E. Moritz is included on the DVD. It would be wise to view it before watching the ballet. The female etoiles, ballet director Lefevre, longtime Balanchine assistant Barbara Horgan, TV director Pierre Cavassilas, and set/costume designer Christian Lacroix all provide valuable insight about Balanchine, his "American" style of classical dancing, and each ballet. The dancers were coached on Balanchine technique by former principals of the New York City Ballet or had the opportunity to view recordings of these ballets.
Go out immediately and buy this emotion provoking recording. Only sitting in the theater seeing a live performance of this jewel would be better.
58 of 64 people found the following review helpful
Had a great time, wish you were thereOct. 15 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
I was in the audience the evening the performance was taped (there I am, in the view of the spectators applauding Rubies!). There is not a great deal I can add to the erudite comments which already have been written, but I can add one or two personal observations.
First, the main reason I gave the dvd only 4 stars out of 5 is the weak performance of Clairemarie Osta in Emeralds. She is the very antithesis of the Balanchine ideal: she is short, dare I say almost "stocky", with very little magic in her stage presence. She is the weakest link among the ranks of the women Etoiles. And secondly, both the decor and the costumes were distinctly sub-par compared with the Kirov's, whose performance I had seen just a couple of years before.
Back to Emeralds - the audience just didn't "get" it (despite a French composer). There was much squirming and looking at wristwatches during the act.
On the other hand, Rubies electrified the audience. Aurelie Dupont is a consistent crowd pleaser, and her fans were out in great number. And how could one not be captivated by Diamonds, particularly by the Letestu/Bart pas de deux. When he knelt to kiss her hand, there were audible gasps.
All in all, it was a wonderful, magical evening - even if for personal reasons I prefered the alternate cast, whose performance I had seen just the previous week.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
An Absolutely Stunning DVD of Balanchine's 'Jewels'July 10 2006
J Scott Morrison
- Published on Amazon.com
I was prepared to write a long and glowing review of this DVD when I came onto this Amazon page and discovered the wonderful review already written by Ignacio Martínez-Ybor and realized I couldn't add very much to his definitive review. (I urge you to stop right now and scroll down to read it.) But I decided to add my unqualified praise for this DVD if only to assert that his very positive response is not just one man's opinion. Everything about the performances, the production, the videography and sound is smashing.
I would add a couple of details. Like Martínez-Ybor, my favorite section is 'Emeralds' set to music of Fauré (primarily from his 'Pelléas et Mélisande' suite, with a couple of additions) and the two solos near its beginning by Laëtitia Pujol and Clairmarie Osta are so elegant that I immediately repeated them. The costumes by Christian LaCroix are particularly beautiful. The American spirit of 'Rubies' is perky, jazzy and fun. Its musical accompaniment featuring Stravinsky's 'Capriccio' with piano soloist Jean-Yves Sébillote is excellent as well. In fact, the entire evening's musical underscoring by the Paris Opéra Orchestra under Paul Connelly is superb.
'Diamonds', set to music from Tchaikovsky's Third Symphony takes us back to Tsarist Russia, but with a difference in that Balanchine makes homage to the choreography of Petipa but adds his own spicy reinterpretation of it. There is an old film of Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins dancing excerpts from the ballet -- the only films of any of these three ballets -- and it is a treasure, but this new film of a complete performance of the ballet is definitely worth having.
If you love Balanchine, you must own this DVD. It is that simple.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
A Brilliant Restaging of a 20th Century ClassicJan. 3 2007
- Published on Amazon.com
I am a Balanchine dancer and guard his work jealously. Though I never performed "Jewels" I've known it since it's premier. Memories of those glorious performances have never left my mind and are the foundation upon which I base any comparison of productions of "Jewels" mounted on other companies. It is now becoming a bit fadish for companies to have all or part of the work, it seems like everyone is doing it. Some quite good, some not so. Companies trained in Balanchine technique have the burdon of comparison with New York City Ballet. However, other companies such as the Kirov or Paris Opera Ballet, legendary companies of classical technique, could find themselves in over their heads. They simply have not been trained as Balanchine dancers. That could prove disasterous, however, both companies have taken Balanchine to heart and, as a result, have blossomed into something totally new. Mr. B. would be proud. The Paris Opera production is a glorious example. From Emeralds, to Rubies, to Diamonds, each movement flawlessly performed, immaculately coached, musical beyond description, and a total feast for any jaded eye. The de la Croix designs (costumes) are perfect: new ideas based on the original Karinska's. The scenic designs are two out of three: Emeralds and Diamonds are divine: Rubies not so much. The lone red banner hanging upstage center is nothing more than a distraction from the precision, humor, and energy of the choreography. It would have been better just on a barren stage. Other than that, though, a sumptuous production that has been very intelligently video'ed. At last, a full video of "Jewels." What a pity the original NYCB production was not preserved in like manner.