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Precious Gems

Last seen at La Scala in 2014, George Balanchine’s “Jewels” returned on stage this season, coincidentally like many other companies around the world: the New York City Ballet and Royal Ballet, not to mention the Bolshoi Ballet and the Mariinsky Ballet.

Performance

La Scala Ballet: “Jewels” by George Balanchine

Place

Teatro all Scala, Milan, Italy, March 2022

Words

Valentina Bonelli

Martina Arduino and Nicola Del Freo in “Emeralds” by George Balanchine. Photograph by Brescia e Amisano/Teatro alla Scala

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The triptych entered in La Scala repertory in 2011 under the direction of Makhar Vaziev, and has in past seasons featured many guest stars: Olesia Novikova, Leonid Sarafanov, Ivan Vasiliev in “Rubies;” Alina Somova, Polina Semionova, Friedemann Vogel, Guillaume Côté in “Diamonds.” Manuel Legris, a director who strongly supports his artists cast only La Scala principals and soloists in the main roles, some of them making their debut, alternating themselves in the three different ballets.

Martina Arduino and Nicola Del Freo in “Emeralds” by George Balanchine. Photograph by Brescia e Amisano/Teatro alla Scala

Staged by Ben Huys, a former dancer with New York City Ballet, now a répétiteur for the George Balanchine Trust, “Emeralds,” with Fauré’s different scores, fits the La Scala corps very well. Dancing in circular and serpentine lines, the ensemble showed the French, romantic style requested by Balanchine, mainly in the flowing port de bras and in the arched backs, together with the choreographer’s signature touch, for example, the way of keeping the hands, with the thumb and the medium finger graciously united. The main couple, principals Martina Arduino and Nicola Del Freo, led the ballet. Arduino in particular, a dancer used to deep contemplation of her roles, was the principal who better understood the style of “Emeralds.” Her abandon was truly romantic, her port de bras, épaulements and cambré were executed not only as formal movements, so delicate and inspired in her variation. Del Freo, a strong dancer in technique, was inspired in a romantic way, although his style appeared more powerful than soft. Despite being less in the spirit of the ballet, the second couple was nonetheless proper: soloist Alice Mariani is a strong and brilliant dancer, actually more suitable for “Rubies,” while principal Marco Agostino, a good partner, didn’t leave his mark. The same goes for the two girls of the trio, soloists Alessandra Vassallo and Agnese Di Clemente; on the contrary soloist Mattia Semperboni, a powerful dancer with a virtuoso streak, found his own way to be romantic, with style and intensity, as this ballet demands.

Maria Celeste Losa in “Rubies” by George Balanchine. ph Brescia e Amisano Teatro alla Scala

Patricia Neary, often the répétiteur for Balanchine ballets at La Scala, staged “Rubies.” On Stravinsky’s Capriccio for piano and orchestra, the ballet showed a corps happy to perform such brilliant choreography. Neary, one of the most famous leading soloists in “Rubies,” passed on her role to soloist Maria Celeste Losa, who looked extraordinary, so tall and long-legged as she is. As the main couple, principal Virna Toppi, who performed that role also as a guest with Bayerisches Staatsballett, was beautiful and sparkling, though sometimes too much the soubrette, while principal Claudio Coviello, although most at ease in the romantic “Emerald,” could display his ballon in the jazzy jumps.

Nicoletta Manni and Timofej Andrijashenko in “Diamonds” by George Balanchine. ph Brescia e Amisano Teatro alla Scala

Also restaged by Ben Huys, “Diamonds” could rely on a beautiful corps de ballet, displaying the youngest and most beautiful elements to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony N.3, Balanchine’s hidden quotes from “Swan Lake.” At the centre of the choreography, the main couple was shining. Nicoletta Manni, who has danced “Diamonds” many times in the past, as an athletic ballerina performed it in a very American style, more energetic than lyric, with more speed than abandon. Everyone has a preferred style: American or à la Russe, the two ways that Balanchine had on his mind when he composed last part of “Jewels,” remembering his lost world while praising his new world. Therefore, it is interesting the contrast with Manni’s partner, principal Timofej Andrijashenko, who, due to his origin, has a special comprehension of the Russian style.

Among the seven performances, after the premiere it was interesting to see also some newcomer, if not in the main roles at least in the soloist ones. A ray of light in “Emeralds” was the appearance of the young soloist Caterina Bianchi: Mr. B. would have liked her, beautiful like Suzanne Farrell, and enchanting in the variation “La Fileuse.”

Valentina Bonelli


Valentina Bonelli is a dance journalist and critic based in Milan, and a longtime contributor to Vogue Italia and Amadeus. She is a correspondent from Italy for international dance magazines such as Dance Europe and Dance Magazine Japan. As a scholar her main interest lies in the XIX century Russian ballet, in its connections with the Italian ballet school. She has translated and edited Marius Petipa’s Memoires (2010) and Diaries (2018) into Italian, and she is currently writing essays and biographies about La Scala ballerinas dancing at Russian Imperial theatres.

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