The Bolshoi’s Jewels, with Smirnova the glittering centrepiece
There were at least two compelling reasons to see the Bolshoi Balletâ€™s performance of Balanchineâ€™s Jewels, filmed in Moscow last month and screened last weekend in Australia.
The first was to witness the extraordinary 22 year old dancer, Olga Smirnova, and the second to see Sergei Filin, the Bolshoiâ€™s artistic director, on stage again, talking about the ballet with Katerina Novikova, the companyâ€™s multilingual spokeswoman.
Novikova introduced the ballet and chatted in Russian, English and French with great fluency with both Filin and Merrill Ashley, who, with Paul Boos, staged the Diamonds section of Jewels.
Sandra Jennings staged Emeralds and Rubies.
Filin, wearing dark wrap around glasses, seemed both serene and poised a year after the acid attack that damaged his eyesight so badly.
Incidentally, itâ€™s recently been announced that he will be one of the judges in the Youth America Grand Prix next April. His sight in one eye is now good enough for him to judge the competition according to a spokeswoman for the Prix.
Smirnova will dance at a gala to mark the 15th anniversary of the Prix in New York.
In 2011, Smirnova graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St Petersburg and joined the Bolshoi the same year on the invitation of Filin.
As youâ€™d expect from a Vaganova graduate, her technique is impeccable but her performance in the ballerina role in the final section of Jewels, Diamonds, went far beyond that in terms of her charisma and stage presence.
The Bolshoi stage is huge, but Smirnovaâ€™s presence was so powerful that it seemed she owned the stage.
At first she appeared almost too regal and distant, but, gradually, she connected more and more with her partner, Semyon Chudin, to move from low beam to full beam. She danced with every part of her body, with remarkable use and control of her epaulement, her back, head, neck and focused eyes.
The only dancer that has made the same spine tingling impression on me was Sergei Polunin who I saw at the Royal Opera House shortly before he left the Royal Ballet. Iâ€™ve not seen Smirnova on stage but now thatâ€™s a must.
As for the Bolshoiâ€™s interpretation of Jewels, choreographed on the New York City Ballet in 1967 by Balanchine, the company seems more at ease with the bookends, Emeralds and Diamonds, than it does with the red centre, Rubies.
Emeralds, as has been written so many times, signifies the elegance and calm of the French ballet style, while Diamonds acknowledges the importance of Marius Petipa and the Russian Imperial age.
Although Balanchine himself claimed it wasnâ€™t intended, Rubies has always been linked with his love of his adopted country, the United States, and his affinity with Broadway shows.
In 1967, Rubies must have seemed the most innovative and showy of the trilogy, with all that skipping, bent elbows, flexed wrists, and high kicks, but danced today by the Bolshoi, it seems strangely dated, despite the joyful performance of the principals, especially Ekaterina Shipulina.
The womenâ€™s short, Christmas-red dresses with layered skirts finished with a sliver of sparkly fringe were not as chic as the Paris Opera Ballet’s or the original Karinska designs worn by the Mariinsky Ballet and Royal Ballet, (although the menâ€™s Rubies costumes by Karinska are not the most flattering.) In 2000 the Paris Opera Ballet danced Jewels for the first time with the elegant costumes by Christian Lacroix.
(Both the Mariinsky and Paris Opera productions are available on DVDs).
The Bolshoi costume designs for Jewels are by Elena Zaitseva and the sets designer is Alyona Pikalova.
For Emeralds and Rubies, the backdrops are five towers of glittering emerald or ruby squares that resemble giant bracelets, but for Diamonds, the setting reverts to a ballet clichĂ©, a blue backdrop with stars.
My most loved moments in Jewels are when the women walk slowly on pointe as if in a dream and the inspirational finale of Diamonds when all the dancers enter in a polonaise and at the end, as one, acknowledge both audience and ballet history with a luscious reverence.