The Australian Ballet

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Jewels: the unique experience of plotless ballet

2321933 TAB Jewels Balanchine Rina Nemoto Credit Rainee Lantry 1

Rina Nemoto, Jewels, 2023
Photo Rainee Lantry

How Jewels' abstract non-narrative form allows for a personalised interpretation of Balanchine's masterpiece.

When you think of classical ballet, it’s often the big story ballets that come to mind: The Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote or Swan Lake. Each scene is peppered with mime, and swift set changes transport you from a castle to a forest full of woodland nymphs. Spectacular as these ballets are, a story isn’t as necessary as you might think.

George Balanchine’s Jewels is plotless ballet at its best. The three parts, Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds, are often performed as standalone works. But together ­­— the contrast creates a story of its own. You can hear it in the applause: Emeralds leaves the audience reflective. Gasps and cheers fill the theatre as the curtain rises in Rubies, leading into the Diamonds finale that brings many to their feet in rapturous applause.

We’ve performed countless other plotless Balanchine works: Symphony in C, Symphony in Three Movements and Serenade. But these works are only one act, performed as part of a triple bill. So, what’s the appeal of a three-act ballet like Jewels?

2321132 TAB Jewels Balanchine Callum Linnane Sharni Spencer Credit Rainee Lantry

Callum Linnane and Sharni Spencer, Jewels, 2023
Photo Rainee Lantry

You get three different ballets in one performance

Three acts, three distinct styles, three different composers.

In Don Quixote, Kitri embodies the duality of explosive energy in act one and dreamlike lyrical grace in act two. However, her versatility is limited by the overarching classical style. In an abstract full-length ballet like Jewels, there’s no need for continuity across the acts, allowing greater freedom and expression. Here’s what to expect:

In Emeralds, dancers in long, flowing romantic tutus skim the stage, as hypnotic and breathtaking as Faure’s score. The ballerina, carefully guided by her partner, spans the entire stage on contracted feet. Enjoy swooping, pendulum-like movements, a joyous pas de trois and an exciting coda that ends with all emeralds executing quick soutenus together. The stage is still, before the heart-wrenching ‘death finale’.

The flirtatious Rubies: see the dancers pushed to the extreme in off-balance extensions and ballistic battements. The Stravinsky score, jazzy, complex and modern, propels them across the stage in intricate grids and wheels. Repetiteur Sandra Jennings tells the women to “be like a cat scratching a post” as they pose, pelvises jutting forwards and elbows undulating.

Diamonds, set to Tchaikovsky, oozes elegance. A lilting waltz begins. The iconic pas de deux favours simplicity, leaving you mesmerised from the first steps. It’s not all understated though. Dazzling fouettés, expansive allegro and a breathtaking manege will leave you in awe.

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Artist of The Australian Ballet, Jewels, 2023
Photo Rainee Lantry

You’ll experience escapism on a whole new level

Without a plot, there’s no need to pour over the synopsis at interval drinks. You’re free to relax and immerse yourself in the splendour.

The costumes gleam. Headdresses sparkle. The backdrop drips with jewels – but there’s no scenery or props needed to tell the story. Instead, the dancers decorate the stage geometrically. This makes for minimalist viewing, ballet pared back to its purest form, dancing without distraction.

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Ako Kondo and Brett Chynoweth, Jewels, 2023
Photo Rainee Lantry

When people ask you what it’s about, there’s no wrong answer

Whatever you take away from the evening is your own unique experience. The beauty of abstract work is that you can interpret it however you want. You may find a hidden narrative between the principal Rubies couple or be moved by the emotional Emeralds. You might appreciate it purely for the aesthetics and find no meaning in it at all. Jewels celebrates versatility and style and will make you rethink what ballet can be.

Two Australian Ballet dancers, on in red ruby costume and another in gold costume dance next to each other, out of focus.

Jewels

  • Adelaide / Tarndanya 12 - 18 July 2024