Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; February 12 & 13, 2015

Maggie Foyer

Igone de Jongh in 'Rubies'.  Photo © Angela Sterling

Igone de Jongh in ‘Rubies’.
Photo © Angela Sterling

Jewels, like tutus and pointe shoes, are for many people what ballet is all about. George Balanchine struck gold with “Jewels”, his first full evening ballet created for New York City Ballet in 1967. It has proved to be one of his most enduring and best loved and offers a score of varied and challenging roles.

Dutch National Ballet has a long standing relationship with the works of Balanchine. They took “Rubies” into their rep in 1977, “Diamonds” was added in 1986 and in 2006 they first performed the full work. It’s a gift for a big company with top flight talent. I thought I had seen the best cast for the opening night then thought again the following evening.

The music creates the ambiance and character for each jewel. The mystic romanticism of “Emeralds” follows Gabriël Fauré’s delicate meandering paths where things are never quite what they seem. Even as Balanchine tries to impose symmetry and order, boundaries shift between couples and trios to conclude on a question mark.

Jurgita Dronina, elegant and fey was paired with Marijn Rademaker now back on home soil, to make a dream couple. Stuttgart’s loss is Het’s gain, although this role gives him little chance to shine. However we have John Neumeier’s “Lady of the Camelias” coming up soon when Rademaker can be seen in a role admirably suited to his gifts. Qian Liu danced the second solo with a pleasing air of self-absorption and mystery while Young Gyu Choi shone in the trio. The second night saw Wen Ting Guan and Vito Mazzeo in the leads. She created a sylphlike creature, playful and utterly captivating, while Mazzeo was the last word in romance: handsome, devoted to his lady and, when given the opportunity, displaying impeccable technique. Together they drew the audience into magical realms.

“Rubies” takes its tone from Stravinsky, whose strident rhythms rewrote the classical music rule book. It is always a crowd pleaser with 20 minutes of high velocity action. Maia Makhateli and Remi Wörtmeyer were on brilliant form, brimming with audacity and thrilling in their virtuosity. Makhateli flipped her extensions sky high with impudence while Wörtmeyer attained new levels of velocity with spins and leaps that left the audience gasping. Igone de Jongh has everything in her favour as the solo girl: hip bones with attitude, a body of perfect Balanchine proportions and the right balance of insouciance and arrogance.

Megan Zimny Kaftira and Young Gyu Choi had a hard act to follow. Both have the crisp definition of movement and enough charm to beguile an audience. The devil-may-care attitude is not yet there but I look forward to seeing them again in the roles in a year or two. Samantha Mednick also made a promising debut in a role that is so much more than technique and one that needs time to develop the right air of confidence. Praise too for the four men, Peter Leung, Matthew Pawlicki-Sinclair, Sem Sjouke and Edo Wijnen, who were so keenly synchronised you felt it was done with mirrors.

Anna Tsygankova and Josef Varga in 'Diamonds'.  Photo © Angela Sterling

Anna Tsygankova and Josef Varga in ‘Diamonds’.
Photo © Angela Sterling

“Diamonds”, highly structured and formal, is impeccably matched to Tchaikovsky’s 3rd Symphony. The ballet is archetypal Russian imperial and Anna Tsygankova, is a ballerina fully at home in the ‘grand Russian’ style. She was well partnered by Jozef Varga: tender yet elegant in Balanchine’s blissful pas de deux and splendid in her solo. The next night Dronina with Isaac Hernandez brought their talents to the lead roles. After the quiet dignity of the pas de deux, Hernandez raised the temperature with an exhilarating solo topped by a brilliant series of turns and Dronina, her technique as dazzling as a facetted jewel, enchanted.

Barbara Karinska’s costumes have achieved iconic status. The women’s jewel encrusted costumes still evoke an era of glamour but the men’s costumes, tunics that foreshorten the torso and the heavily upholstered sleeves, look sadly dated. By contrast the new décor from Toer van Schayk is a crisp network of geometric lines that shift to create and recreate facet-like divisions against subtly coloured backdrop all foregrounding the dance effectively.