The Bolshoi Ballet has been delighting Brisbane crowds with its production of Spartacus. It’s a big, bombastic, old-fashioned work that tells its epic story in broad strokes with dashes of kitsch woven into the choreography, but audiences have lapped it up.

Diamonds with Alyova Kovalyova and Jacopo Tissi in the centre. Photograph © Darren Thomas

Last night, the company opened the second production in its QPAC season – Jewels, which George Balanchine created for New York City Ballet in 1967 (a year before Yuri Grigorovich made Spartacus). It’s a wildly different, sumptuously beautiful work, and what a joy it is! The dancers sparkle with the same gleaming beauty as the gem stones that Balanchine references.

Consisting of three short works, inspired by jewelry that Balanchine saw at Van Cleef & Arpels, Jewels quickly became known as the first full-length abstract ballet. Drawing on a different gem, composer and dance style for each act, the neo-classical piece references Balanchine’s own career: Russia where he was born and trained as a dancer, France where he tasted early success with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and America, where he lived from 1933, and where he founded the New York City Ballet in 1948, and essentially created American ballet. It’s such an inspired, clever idea for a piece of pure dance.

The curtain rises on Emeralds, choreographed to incidental music by Fauré from two plays, Shylock and Pelléas et Mélisande. Next comes Rubies to Stravinsky’s Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra, and finally Diamonds, which uses music from Tchaikovsky’s Third Symphony (performed here by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Pavel Sorokin). In each act, the dancers wear costumes inspired by the relevant gem stone, designed for the Bolshoi (which first performed it in 2012) by Elena Zaitseva.

Anastasia Denisova and David Motta Soares in Emeralds. Photograph © Darren Thomas

The curtain rises on Emeralds, a quiet, delicate, dreamily romantic piece, with the women in long green, wafting tutus and the men in white tights and green tops. Featuring two leading couples, a pas de trois and a corps de ballet of 10 women, it has a magical quality as if it is taking place in a mythical forest glade. The choreography ranges from gorgeous, precise arabesques to the famous “walking duet” in which a ballerina walks en pointe while holding her partner’s arm.

The two leading women, Anastasia Denisova and Ksenia Zhiganshina, both performed with a limpid elegance, their arms undulating as if floating in a breeze. They were well supported by their partners David Motta Soares and Fuad Mamedov, with lovely, lush dancing from all the cast.

Ekaterina Krysanova and Artem Ovcharenko in Rubies. Photograph © Darren Thomas

Rubies is a fun, snazzy piece, that plays with the off-kilter rhythms in Stravinsky’s spiky score to evoke the heady buzz of a busy, jazz-age New York. The choreography is fast, loose and relaxed, moving between jetés and jogging, while the women flick their hips with the witty charm of showgirls. The dancers could inject a snappier sense of Broadway pizzazz into the movement, but they radiated a playful sense of fun, with Artem Ovcharenko a standout.

While Emeralds and Rubies are performed against a transparent wall the colour of the gems depicted, Diamonds ­is staged against a night sky with sparkling stars (set design by Alyona Pikalova). The audience gasped when the curtain rose to show the women in glittering, sequinned, white tutus, and in the men in matching white. A homage to the Imperial Russian style, Diamonds is a majestic piece with a long, stunning pas de deux for a central couple.

Jacopo Tissi and Alyona Kovalyova in Diamonds. Photograph © Darren Thomas

Alyona Kovalyova and Jacopo Tissi (who spoke to Limelight for our feature Jewels in the Crown) were glorious on opening night. Kovalyova is a gorgeous, tall, willowy dancer with a fabulous technique, her feet beautifully arched, her back flexible, her limbs exquisitely lithe. She also radiates a sense of delight in what she is doing. Tissi is also a superb dancer and a wondeful partner. Together they captured the glittering brilliance of the piece, with wonderful support from all the soloists: a divine end to an exquisite three-part work, that glowed from start to finish.


The Bolshoi Ballet performs Jewels again tonight, and on July 2 – 3, and Spartacus from July 4 – 7

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