Classical a meaning or a story behind

Classical ballet is an ever-changing art form. Every great choreographer and dancer leaves a mark on the ballet world, keeping the timeless world of ballet current. While there have been countless influential members of the ballet community, George Balanchine, without a doubt, made a significant impact on ballet as it is known today. Balanchine is famous for his creation of a new style of ballet, neoclassicism, as well as his breathtaking pieces choreographed during his time with New York City Ballet. One of the reasons he is remembered as a great choreographer is because of the vulnerability he allowed himself to feel while choreographing. He did not simply give dancers steps to execute, he had a meaning or a story behind each one of his pieces, which he then embeds into each and every step. His unique choreography makes him one of the most memorable dancers and choreographers of all time, with his pieces still being recreated and performed today. Though he created dozens of works in his time, one of his most famous pieces is Jewels, a piece with three movements loosely based off of his life story. Georgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1904. During his childhood, Russia became a Socialist State, leading to a deterioration of ballet among many other things in Russia. Balanchivadze became part of the underground ballet culture in Russia. Balanchivadze choreographed dances for himself and his friends. This started as a hobby, but in reality jumpstarted his career. In 1924, he and his troupe of dancers traveled westward for what they were planning to be a short trip away from their homeland, looking for opportunities beyond the disarray they were currently living in. His dancing troupe was discovered and hired by Serge Diaghilev. Diaghilev frenchified Balanchivadze’s name into the famous George Balanchine. Balanchine started his professional choreographing career by choreographing opera ballets, catching Diaghilevs eye as a choreographer rather than a dancer. His works had the latest music and newest art world trappings, something outside the norm of what was considered classical ballet. When Diaghilev passed away, Balanchine decided it was time to seek independence as a choreographer and dancer. His ticket to a chance to start fresh came when arich man named Lincoln Kirstein took an interest in Balanchine. He asked Balanchine to come and establish the exotic form of dance known as ballet in The United States. Kirstein knew almost nothing about ballet, just as Balanchine knew almost nothing about America. Shortly after Balanchine arrived in America, he, with the help of Kirstein, established the School of American Ballet. In their first year, Balanchine created the world famous Serenade for his students. This piece is one of Balanchine’s few pieces still performed in schools and companies around the world today. Balanchine was clearly the star of his time in the ballet world, but even after he passed, his work is still relevant today. One of his proudest and most shining accomplishments was choreographing Jewels. Jewels is a ballet in three sections, “Emeralds”, “Rubies”, and “Diamonds”. Balanchine used three drastically different composers with three different styles for his groundbreaking piece: Gabriel Fauré for “Emeralds”, Igor Stravinsky for “Rubies”, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky for “Diamonds”. Each composer brought a different quality of movement. To highlight this, Balanchine brought different styles of dance to eacah of his pieces. Three very different styles of choreography came with the three different composers. The styles Balanchine uses in each piece range from classicism to impressionism. Never before had a ballet been based on such an abstract object. But Balanchine was all about breaking social norms and pushing ballet to its limits. The motivation behind Jewels came from an encounter Balanchine had with a jeweler, “I have always liked jewels; after all, I am an Oriental, from Georgia in the Caucases. I like the color of gems, the beauty of stones, and it was wonderful to see how our costume workshop, under Karinksa’s direction, came so close to the quality of real stones (which were of course too heavy for the dancers to wear!)” (George Balanchine, 101 Stories). In his work, Balanchine was able to perfectly capture the flashiness juxtaposed with the regalness of real jewels.  But how did Balanchine’s fascination with jewels turn into a ballet based on his life? Behind almost every great work of art has to come motivation or intention from the artist. Instead of using a storyline, Balanchine chose to abstractly base each section off of a different part of his life. Each section represents a piece of him. At the time, a plotless ballet was still a new and untold idea, which had the potential to deter audiences. Only a few years earlier, Balanchine had modernized the classical Don Quixote, so this new plotless ballet had a lot riding on it. The question lies in where there is a connection between jewels and life. Jewels are not often thought of as natural, but they are considered the most precious of all natural resources. There is a beauty about them, as well as incredible strength. Balanchine’s life was like that of a gemstone. He was met with countless obstacles, which he turned into something beautiful. The first movement of Jewels is “Emeralds”. “Emeralds” is based off of Balanchine’s impressions of France. Balanchine considers this movement “an evocation of France” (Balanchine Trust). The piece is filled with “the France of elegance, comfort, dress, and perfume” (101 stories). The choreography mimics the 19th-century dances of the French romantics. Even the original soloist, Violette Verdy, was French. Balanchine selected Gabriel Fauré, a French romantic composer for the music because his style of music perfectly matched Balanchine’s vision. Fauré’s life and work bridged the eras of romanticism and impressionism. The style of “Emeralds” is neoromanticism, which was a popular style in Paris when Balanchine worked there in the 1920s and 1930s. Neoromanticism was a not unique to dance; it was a movement that extended into literature, music, and visual art. The movement encouraged conversations of subjectivity, but was not meant to cause heated debates. It was meant to show emotion and convey a mood, opposed to  the realism that came before it. The works of art, produced during this time period, including ballet, began to be more expressive. The change in the manner of choreography not only showed the dancers’ lines, but the intent behind their movements and left their emotions up to interpretation based on their body language. Balanchine said his motivation was “enchanted ballrooms and fated encounters” (A tale of 3 cities).  As the curtain opens on “Rubies,” the regalness of the music consumes the theatre. It is a slow and melodious tune. The costumes are flowing, green skirts, matching the style of the music perfectly. The opening combination of steps is rather simple, yet regal. Balanchine places a huge emphasis on the port de bras in the opening section. As the movement continues, the dancers weave in and out of geometric patterns, posing but never fully stopping their movements. The visually simple, yet technically difficult movements add to the elegant quality Balanchine was envisioning during this section. The entire section is not about the height of the leg, or the complexity of the movements; it is about the beauty of slow, sustained, and simple movements.  Every last bouree and tendu is completed with the head, eyes, and fingers in a cohesive position, every part of the body a part of the line. Even when the music gets faster, the movements keep their calm quality; even the dancers’ faces are relaxed. “Emeralds” is the very essence of France. The grandeur of France during this time period is perfectly captured in the regal movements of the dancers. The cohesive positions allude to the regalness of France. Everything looks flawless, just as Balanchine viewed everything in France as perfect. The neoromantic style of the movements alludes to the exquisite style of upper-class France.”Rubies” is the second movement of Jewels. Balanchine’s motivation for this piece is based on his relationship with Igor Stravinsky, the composer. Originally, the piece was rumored to be based on Balanchine’s discovery of America, but Balanchine specifically denied this claim, saying that the section was solely about the relationship with Stravinsky. Rumors of America could have come from the fact that the debut of Jewels starred two American dancers at the premiere, Patricia McBride and Edward Villella. Stravinsky was born in Russia, just like Balanchine. His music has been used in several New York City Ballet pieces, showing a mutual trust between the two. Stravinsky’s work used many different styles, including romanticism, neoclassicism, and serialism. “Rubies” is set in 3 different styles: romanticism, neoclassicism, and serialism. This is a stark contrast from “Emeralds”, which was set in French classical grandeur.The opening sequence of “Rubies” already demonstrates the stark contrast between it and “Emeralds.” The movements have a lot more flair, and the movement never stops. There is a powerful force behind every movement, and the audience can feel the intensity of the movements. The entire section is fast-paced, with intensity envelopping every movement. The main focus of the section is jumping. Dancers leap across the length of the stage in a few movements, giving the illusion of flying. While the dancers do take brief moments to pose, the pose is not necessarily a classical line. Balanchine choreographed dancers in distorted positions: turned in legs, bent knees, flexed feet, and strange head angles. Nothing about this section aligns with classical ballet at the time. Often times, the dancers run in parallel and purposefully make some steps not have proper technique. Even the pas de deux is faster than most of the classical time period. The pas de deux does have some characteristics that don’t follow the rest of the section. The couple has a sleek quality about them. While they are still moving at a fast pace, they exert their movements with a different energy. “Rubies” has more body contortion than “Emeralds.” In order to show off the contortion, the dancers are wearing short red skirts to accentuate their lines. The long lines highlight the contortion of their bodies, adding the effect of edginess to the piece. Throughout moments of the piece, the dancers seem to have an almost childlike quality about them, which juxtaposes the regalness of the first section. The childlike quality does not come from their facial expressions; rather from their light and playful quality of steps.Based on this section, one can assume that Balanchine’s relationship with Stravinsky was strong and intense. With two of the world’s greatest additions to the fine arts community joining together, the spark and passion the two of them brought out within each other must have been unbelievable. “Diamonds,” the third movement of Jewels, is based off of Russia, where Balanchine was born. This section “recalls the order and grandeur of Imperial Russia and the Mariinsky Theatre. Balanchine choreographed “Diamonds” in the style of St. Petersburg’s Imperial Ballet, where Balanchine was trained at an early age. This piece is representative of his beginnings and ends. Balanchine selected Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 3 in D Major to set his piece too. The original work of music had 5 movements, but Balanchine only uses the first four in “Diamonds.” Tchaikovsky studied at a Conservatory in St. Petersburg, where Balanchine studied decades later. Balanchine set “Diamonds” in the style of classicism and is the most romantic of the three sections. Balanchine originally set “Diamonds” on Suzanne Farrell. He was madly in love with her at the time, which is why “Diamonds” is seen as romantic. Balanchine considered her the beginning and ending of classical ballet. From the moment the curtain opens, the setting of the theatre transforms into a fairytale. The opening sequence is light and airy, with a breath accompanying each movement. The purely classical music accompanies the dancers lightly jumping and running across the stage, as though their feet never touch the ground. The opening section has a whimsical feel, the movement never stops, yet moves so slowly at times it is as if the dancers are standing still. The beginning of the piece is a medium allegro, the movements are fast, but the dancers maintain the breathy quality throughout. As the section continues, the quality shifts from airy to more of a waltz, with suspension of developpes and arabesques that highlight the dancers’ length and grace. In addition to the grandeur of the bigger movements, their grace is also shown simply through standing in tendu. The strength and ability needed to make a step look so effortless is no easy feat, yet the quality is necessary to convey the feeling of calmness and gracefulness. Throughout the section, the dancers form many circular patterns, which mimic their circular movements. The pas de deux is extremely classical, with the standard slow beginning with simple and elegant steps which builds into impressive turns and lifts towards the end at a faster tempo. The section features the repetition of many classical ballet steps, such as bourrées and basic pirouettes. The other two sections each had a unique style, but “Diamonds” is more of a homage to classical ballet. Balanchine combined what was considered to be a standard style at the time with his own personal flair. For example, the dancers may just be doing standard bourrées across the stage, but Balanchine choreographed original arm and head placement to go with the feet. All of the jumps in this section are low to the ground, which carries on the light and breathy feeling throughout all steps. Towards the end of the section, the dancing subtly switches to a court scene. The ballerinas are all wearing gloves and are dressed in long romantic tutus. Standard ballroom choreography is used, such as waltz turns, curtseys, and walks with a partner. The finale of “Diamonds” is typical of any ballet. The steps get gradually bigger as the ending draws near and all dancers return to stage for a last corps de ballet movement. The movements are big and purposeful, with intent behind each step. Right before the curtain closes for the final time, the dancers of “Diamonds” slowly and gracefully finish in one cohesive position, each person complementing the shape of the final pose.Though all of these pictures are of a similar position, they are the epitome of the three different movement qualities of the three sections. The first picture, from “Emeralds,” shows the elegance and beauty in straight lines. Though the leg is not as high as it could be, the dancer’s hips and pelvis are aligned with her shoulders, creating a perfectly straight line from her bottom foot all the way to the top of her head. There is beauty in simplicity. In the second picture, from “Rubies,” the dancer is doing a penché and is being supported by 4 men. While she could easily do the same step and achieve the same height with just one partner, the added support adds to the edginess of the position. Instead of just seeing the contorted line of the ballerina, there are also noticeable uncommon lines on the men. The position of the men also highlights the ballerina’s length and flexibility. In the third picture, from “Diamonds,” the dancer is in an extremely classical pose for a pas de deux. It is just one man and one woman, and the woman is in a penché being supported by the man. It is one of the core steps of a pas de deux and is often seen in famous ballets such as The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, two very famous, very classical, ballets. Balanchine created Jewels in a very specific style based on his interpretations of his life, but the original style and his style has been proven difficult to recreate as companies set the piece on their dancers. In a recent staging of Jewels, the three sections were performed by separate companies in one international event for the 50th anniversary of the premiere of Jewels. The show opened in July in the same theatre where it was first performed 50 years prior. “Emeralds” was performed by the Paris Opera Ballet, which was perfectly fitting to represent the grandeur of Paris that Balanchine aimed for in the original staging. “Rubies”, performed by New York City Ballet, captured the essence of New York City, which is where Balanchine spent the majority of his time with Stravinsky. “Diamonds”, performed by Bolshoi Ballet from Moscow, Russia, alludes to the beginning and end of Balanchine’s life, tying in where his journey started to his slow decline away from his career. In conclusion, Balanchine’s Jewels is the epitome of his life. The three sections show three important parts of his life: “Emeralds” represents his time in France, “Rubies” represents his relationship with Stravinsky, and “Diamonds” represents his beginnings and endings in France. The three sections are danced in three different styles to represent the different cultures, time periods, and emotions during the given stage in Balanchine’s life. While all three styles are vastly different, each step was choreographed by the same man. Every individual movement, emotion, and level of intensity are crucial to conveying the differences in the three distinct periods in his life.

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