Jewels, Royal Opera House, London – review

There is an inevitability about certain performances that persuades us of an utter rightness, an all-conquering emotional force which tells us that this is how it must absolutely be, and not otherwise. Wisdom after curtain-fall says that this is not so, that other artists, other circumstances, will satisfy us as deeply, but the moment’s ecstatic response must and will linger. I am no stranger to Balanchine’s Jewels. I loved its early performances, and how exquisite was Violette Verdy in Emeralds, how ecstatic Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins in Diamonds. But on Tuesday, after the Bolshoi Ballet showed us Jewels, I was prepared to hail Olga Smirnova’s performance in Diamonds – and no less so Semyon Chudin’s as her cavalier – as sublimely commanding, perfect.

I’m wrong, of course, but the cheering Opera House public was no less bedazzled by the splendours of these interpretations. And how tremendous the Bolshoi forces, how sure the response to Tchaikovsky and grand the realisation of Balanchine’s hymn to his own heritage – educated in Tsarist St Petersburg, knowing his links to the world of Imperial ballet and its ideals. (“Give us a child until he is seven and he is ours ever after,” said the priests.)

So, Diamonds as a summation of Mariinsky attitudes, made by a great master, and Russian dancers recalling a heritage, responding with splendid effects to Balanchine’s tribute. And Smirnova setting out the choreography with an exquisite clarity, the dance flowering through her torso – Vaganova schooling disciplines every moment – and the music made clear to us. Breathtaking. Chudin her worthy partner: power, luscious phrasing, grand outlines and a discreet mastery all his – dancing marked by an unemphatic grandeur.

For the rest: Emeralds was made unlikely by an orchestral performance that bruised Fauré’s exquisite forms and led to unidiomatic readings, and Rubies was danced with a properly Stravinskian verve. I salute its cast led by Kristina Kretova, Yulia Grebenshchikova and Andrey Merkuriev, who were as vivid and sassy as the score, attuned to the splendid pianism of Alexey Melentiev, but it was Smirnova’s evening and Chudin’s, and the bright array of the Bolshoi’s dancers in Diamonds.

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