In 1967, choreographer George Balanchine did something audacious. He created an abstract, three-part epic inspired by the gems on display at Van Cleef & Arpels. The ballet didn’t have a name when it premiered at the New York State Theater, but later became known as Jewels, which is obvious enough, as far as titles go, considering the names of its acts. “Emeralds,” “Rubies” and “Diamonds” each feature rich, bling-encrusted costumes and ambitious choreography.
Modern ballet existed before Jewels. Balanchine himself had created several modern pieces that were well-received by critics and audiences. But what set Jewels apart was the sheer scope of the performance. No one had ever attempted a full-length abstract ballet without even a whisper of narrative until Jewels in 1967. Balanchine imposed his discipline on the concept and the dance, and created something great. Legendary dance critic Clive Barnes raved about it in the New York Times.
“For years, I have wondered why no one has ever made a three-act ballet just about dancing,” Barnes wrote. “Now Mr. Balanchine has done just that, and it is a delight.”
Since its debut, Jewels has been performed all over the world by dance companies large and small. The Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle has performed it five times and will join Nevada Ballet Theatre for its Las Vegas debut. NBT’s dancers aren’t total strangers to the Balanchine classic. They performed “Rubies” in 2008. In addition to Pacific Northwest Ballet, the local company will also be joined by Salt Lake City’s Ballet West. Each company will perform one act of the legendary ballet, which may mark another first for Balanchine’s Jewels. It’s always good to tweak a masterpiece, since Balanchine showed us that classic ballet, even dancing about gems in jewelry, is not an art to set in stone.
Saturday, Oct. 13 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 14 at 1 p.m.; Smith Center, 361 Symphony Park Ave., www.nevadaballet.org, $35-$128