Jewels is best understood as a dance triptych. Indeed the association with bejeweled medieval sacred art is a good one: Jewels is a sort of visual worship to the sacral form of ballet. It is also an archetypally American work, arising, gloriously, out of serendipitious émigrés encounters of post War New York. Frenchman Claude Arpels met with the Russian Balanchine, and the jewelry dynast invited the choreographer to the Maison’s Fifth Avenue boutique. Van Cleef and Arpels had been producing playful ballerina brooches since the early 40s. It’s the sort of origins story that dance historians swoon over and now over 50 years old (having had its New York première in 1967), it still has the status of a classic.

Jacqueline Callahan, Zecheng Liang and Nayara Lopes in George Balanchine’s <i>Jewels</i> © Alexander Iziliaev
Jacqueline Callahan, Zecheng Liang and Nayara Lopes in George Balanchine’s Jewels
© Alexander Iziliaev

Emeralds, which shows off the more romantic French style, was a fluently danced piece which was lovely for its flow of movement; I particularly liked the ports de bras in ceaseless motion, and the moments of spontaneity in the various facets. The main couples, Mayara Pineiro and Arian Molina Soca, and Oksana Maslova and Ian Hussey were elegant and lightly partnered. The trio (Nayara Lopes, Jacqueline Callahan and Zecheng Liang) was a playful presence, if a bit on the skittish side, once or twice having a little clumsiness getting into line.

Pennsylvania Ballet Principals Lillian DiPiazza and Jermel Johnson in George Balanchine’s <i>Jewels</i> © Alexander Iziliaev
Pennsylvania Ballet Principals Lillian DiPiazza and Jermel Johnson in George Balanchine’s Jewels
© Alexander Iziliaev
Rubies opened up on an alluring tableau. The background, defined in small red lights, was of some kind of elaborate arched façade, with two sets of hanging three lights (which doubled as pendant ruby earings in appearance). It was all very Deco and superbly caught the mood of the Roaring 20s that Rubies showcases. We were all on side. In sassy red slips of costumes, the dancers played with form, girating hips, pushing ballet gently across the boundaries into jazz and indeed into the Broadway chorus girls' line, high knees up and all. It was ever only a gentle push – if anything, I felt the need for something more brash and assertive, and well, smouldering and aggressive. The orchestra, I felt on multiple occasions today, hung back. They needed to be more of a player here, the piano solo a more dominant interjection. There was some small unsteadiness getting into postures at times – a pity when you have only a microsecond, and you have to make it count.

Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet in George Balanchine’s <i>Jewels</i> © Alexander Iziliaev
Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet in George Balanchine’s Jewels
© Alexander Iziliaev
Diamonds opened, as Emeralds had done on a large starburst of tiny dots, in the appropriate color. But in contrast to the first movement, these white dots became larger, diamond shaped, and oh glory, by the end had become ring upon ring of chandeliers, with small tiny diamond candlelight on the top of each component part. Some elegant partnering from Dayesi Torriente and Sterling Baca, and cohesive work from the corps de ballet, which became a triumph in the illuminating end. But, dear me, where was the Tchaikovsky crescendo from the orchestra? There we all were, hoping for the sound to be pumped up, to meet the dancers as they danced their way to their Balanchine apotheosis, and it just wasn’t supportive enough. It's great that the Pennsylvania Ballet continues to have a live orchestra and there is nothing like the rapport that comes from live music and dance, but I thought they could have done much better service here especially in Rubies and Diamonds.

***11