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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 14 DECEMBER 2009 Joyaux (the French production of George Ballanchine's Jewels, which was created in 1967 for New York City Ballet) arrived at the Palais Garnier in 2000. It is a rare and precious three-act work that attracts packed houses each time it is programmed. The choreographer who loved women was, as he said himself, inspired by the jewellery stores of New York's Fifth Avenue and his resulting ballet is a tribute to the great dance schools of Paris, New York, Saint Petersburg, and their ballerinas.

The opening piece, Emeralds, set to the music of Gabriel Fauré, evokes French romantic ballet, the second, Rubies, pays tribute to Broadway with Stravinsky's lively score, while Diamonds, set to Tchaikovsky, revives the classical elegance of the Imperial Russian style.

Paris Opera Ballet in Emeralds
Photo: Agathe Poupeney 

The dreamy, poetic work, Emeralds, is an evocation of Bournonville's sylphs. Created for the French ballerina Violette Verdy, and subsequently danced sublimely by Elisabeth Maurin in Paris, fluid and lyrical in the central role, the ballet, bathed in a gentle green light drifted effortlessly along. With the dancers dressed by Christian Lacroix in long, shimmering tutus, an elusive world of mystery, melancholy, and beauty unfolded before us. Of the three works it is the most romantic, full of a delicate charm and thus the most difficult to stage. It needs to be performed by dancers possessing both the personality and intelligence to understand what they are doing. Perfect technique and a pretty smile are just not enough.

Unfortunately in October, Eve Grinsztajn, as beautiful as she is, showed little understanding of her role. Nor was she supported by her leading men, all of whom were familiar with the ballet and should have shown more sensitivity. But while Alessio Carbone, although more at home in Rubies, danced quite well, Yann Bridard, an interpreter of great talent when so inclined, simply muddled along. The corps de ballet, with the exception of Sarah Cora Dayanova who virtually carried the ballet along on her slender shoulders, were simply just there. It proved a most unpropitious start to the evening.

Mathias Heymann in Rubies
Photo: Agathe Poupeney

Happily, matters perked up considerably with Rubies which, under the title of Capriccio, has been part of the company's repertoire since 1974. It is a piece which the dancers love and know well, even if a last-minute change of cast saw 22-year-old Mathias Heymann stepping in to make his debut in the role partnering Clairemarie Osta. Both had the speed and stamina for the work; if in Emeralds one drifts or marches, in Rubies one runs. Fast. And they certainly did. Osta was delightful in the central pas de deux, while Heymann simply erupted on stage, dancing it "'Frenchie" style with his own brand of impish charm. They captured all the excitement and fun of the work, egging each other on and revelling in all the challenges Balanchine threw their way, never vulgar, never brash. They were also music made movement, Heymann being an exceptionally musical dancer, exulting in those extreme positions which accompanied the crashing chords in the score.

Many in the audience not only smiled but laughed out loud for the sheer joy of their dancing. Technically, they were superb, but it was Heymann's cheeky grin and Osta's joy in her dance that stole the hearts of the Parisian public. Moreover, Emilie Cozette in the solo role chose to dance exactly the way her body told her to do. Not too show-off, but feminine and elegant, she, too, danced her role as befitted an étoile of the French company, placing rather than putting her feet on the ground, and earning praise for her wonderful performance from the American conductor, Kevin Rhodes.

Agnès Letestu, Josè Martinez and corps de ballet in Diamonds
Photo: Agathe Poupeney

The evening then ended on an even higher note, with Agnès Letestu and Josè Martinez leading the cast of Diamonds against Christian Lacroix' glittering silver and white setting. It is an immense showpiece constructed on the last four movements of Tchaikovsky's Polonaise symphony, with a corps de ballet of twelve encasing a spectacularly beautiful pas de deux, the intensity and lyricism echoing that of Siegfried and Odette. Resolutely Russian, it is a synthesis of the work of Petipa and Lev Ivanov, from the opening waltz which brings the swans from the lake and where Letestu's exquisite arms and hands seemed to float in the air. Luminous, ethereal, and partnered to perfection by Martinez, she was the perfect incarnation of the great Russian classical ballerina.

The tribute to Balanchine's Saint Petersburg past continued with whispers of the snowflakes from The Nutcracker, with movements taken from Raymonda, and with a grand finale from the Sleeping Beauty, a radiant celebration.

Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for

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Book Review: Stravinsky & Balanchine: A Journey of Invention

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