Russia’s Mariinsky Ballet Arrives in Downtown with Three Colorful Dances

Each piece in Jewels is named for the colors the dancers wear, and takes after a different school of dance.

Choreographer George Balanchine is one of the most celebrated figures in the ballet world, having created shows that have become staples for numerous companies. His work has been well represented at Downtown’s Music Center, including the Royal Ballet’s July production of Romeo and Juliet. 

This week, the Mariinsky Ballet is bringing another of Balanchine’s dances to life with a limited run on top of Bunker Hill to start the Music Center’s 2019-2020 dance season.

The Russian company is at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for five performances (including two matinees) of Jewels. The production runs Thursday-Sunday, Oct. 24-27.

Originally choreographed by Balanchine in 1967, Jewels is an unconventional piece. It comprises three different works, each with a unique style and musical accompaniment; the names reflect the colors the dancers wear. It’s often seen as an abstract work of ballet, without a narrative or overarching theme, focused on exploring movement instead of a story.

Jewels consists of Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds, with each work set to a different genre of music and theme, according to Yuri Fateev, acting director of the Mariinsky Ballet.

The three works each reflect a different style of dance. Rachel Moore, president and CEO of the Music Center, said that Emeralds is rooted in a French pastoral feel, focused on delicate movement. Rubies has a Broadway and jazz influence, while the finale, Diamonds, is very much in the style of big operatic, traditional ballet works, with white tutus and in the style of the Russian Imperial Ballet School.

It’s also a large and ambitious production. Half of the Mariinsky Ballet is on tour while the other half is back in St. Petersburg. The show involves 90 dancers, plus the company’s 66-member orchestra. There are rotating casts each night, with different dancers stepping into the lead roles for each piece.

The Mariinsky Ballet’s production marks its first visit to the Music Center since 2015, and the first time Jewels has ever been performed in the space, according to Moore.

“What I love about it is that Jewels is a big ballet, it’s got a full orchestra, tiaras, the whole nine yards,” Moore said.

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Ahead of its run at the Music Center, the Mariinsky Ballet is performing La Bayadère at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.

Moore said that La Bayadère is a much more traditional type of ballet, but with Jewels, Southern California audiences get a chance to see the full range of the company’s abilities.

The Mariinsky Ballet first produced Jewels in 1999 and for the past 20 years it has been part of its repertoire. Fateev said that it is a difficult work to tackle in part because each segment calls for such a different style of choreography and coordination. “Mr. B,” as Fateev called Balanchine, came from a musical background and his choreographies have a higher level of musicality than most productions.

It makes Jewels a challenge for any company. That includes the Mariinsky Ballet, which has performed the piece for two decades. But Fateev said that it’s the nuances of the performance that give the audience a varied and unique show.

“For the public who comes and watches it, they can enjoy the beauty of each piece,” Fateev said. “With Emeralds, it’s very lyrical music, very colorful. For Rubies it’s lot of the energy and character. It’s like you’re in Broadway in New York, it’s full of sparking lights and high-speed movements. And for Diamonds, it looks like you came to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg watching Sleeping Beauty. There are very strong lights, beautiful cream-colored tutus, a central couple dancing, all set to the classical music of Tchaikovsky.”

This season of Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center is built around very strong, style-specific productions, Moore said. She pointed to shows from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Teatro alla Scala Ballet later in the season, each of which embodies a different school of movement. The Mariinsky Ballet, she said, sets the tone and approach to exploring international dance.

Jewels is also a work dear to the Mariinsky Ballet. Fateev noted that Balanchine got his start in an earlier version of the ballet in St. Petersburg. The company feels like Balanchine is their choreographer, Fateev said. Jewels is a chance for the company to show their respect for his work.

Jewels runs Thursday-Sunday, Oct. 24-27 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave. or themusiccenter.org.

nslayton@timespublications.com.