Art for art’s sake seems to be a forgotten ideal these days. Unless, of course, you look to the world of George Balanchine. As one of the most influential choreographers in history, Balanchine created over 425 works and created an aesthetic that many people associate with ballet today. Notably, he also founded the American School of Ballet and New York City Ballet.
All this in mind, I was thrilled to hear Ballet West would open its 55th season with one of Balanchine’s works. “Jewels” is an iconic masterpiece where beauty and decadence take center stage. It’s the perfect escape from reality into challenging technical features and stunning costumes.
For three hours on a Friday night, I sat in a darkened Capitol Theater and enjoyed a complete feast for the eyes and ears. This show is definitely worth the time and cost of admission. The set was simple — there wasn’t one. A color changing backdrop provided a soft background for each jewel’s featured act. Framed by draped beige curtains the simplicity was lovely. In stark contrast, the decorative chandeliers, if they can be called such, were atrocious. Created by Michael Andrew Curry, they hung over the stage as asymmetric metal pipes with exposed bulbs. Their lighting was not functional and the impact of the metal was jarring amidst so much elegance.
Luckily, the dancing was sublime. “Emeralds” started the show with the feeling of French Renaissance. Katherine Lawrence and Rex Tilton are true technical masters and they made this extremely difficult piece seem effortless. Lawrence has subtle moments of stillness which granted her performance an enviable elegance befitting her massive emerald crown and glimmering collar. Sayaka Ohtaki was equally fantastic. “Emeralds” is an unusual casting choice for her as she normally dances faster staccato variations befitting her butterfly-like feet and small frame. However, she pulled off this adagio role beautifully.
In stark contrast, “Rubies” came bursting onto the stage for the second act with all the expected precision and sass of its jazzy score. Katlyn Addison was the perfect soloist for this piece — fierce, powerful and strong. Her performance made the act. Beckanne Sisk, on the other hand, had all the flirtatiousness of a ruby but lacked the precision and depth of feminine power needed for the role. Her long legs certainly looked beautiful in her romanesque skirt, but her movements weren’t as sharp as the music demanded.
The show closed with “Diamonds.” Tchaikovsky’s musical score is reminiscent of the Nutcracker, which he also wrote, and this section was an ideal way to prepare for the snowflakes in all of our futures. The tutus for this piece were not white, as Diamonds might imply, but a daring champagne, which was the most beautiful of the night by far. Likewise, Emily Adams and Adrian Fry floated throughout the complex piece. This is certainly not a show to ditch at intermission. The last act was by far the best, and more than worth the wait. The finale of this piece was awe-inspiring and the many rounds of extra bows were well earned in the eyes of the audience. “Jewels” can only be considered a triumph as dancers left the stage opening night on the heels of a standing ovation.
Although the show flies by, “Jewels” runs for two hours with two intermissions. Performances continue until Nov. 10, with shows Wednesday through Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. and a matinee on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. Tickets range $20-100, but the theater does offer student rush prices the hour before the show starts. For more ticket information, visit balletwest.org. Escape into a sparkling past — “Jewels” awaits.