Pennsylvania Ballet's 'Jewels' shines at the Academy of Music

Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancers Lillian DiPiazza and Jermel Johnson in the Rubies section of George Balanchine's "Jewels." )

Even in an art form that’s focuses on refinement, there’s nothing like Jewels. And like the precious stones it evokes, the beauty of ballet has many facets. George Balanchine chose three gems, three composers and three countries that informed his life’s work to show off in Jewels, which Pennsylvania Ballet opened Thursday night at the Academy of Music.

A perennial favorite with both audiences and dancers, Jewels simply glitters, from the dancing to the costumes to the music. Pennsylvania Ballet has danced Jewels, or a portion of it, a few times in recent years, but this time was with mostly different dancers, fewer with training rooted in Balanchine technique.

Wisely, artistic director Angel Corella — or perhaps Balanchine repetiteur Elyse Borne, who coached the dancers — chose mostly Balanchine-trained dancers for Thursday night’s Rubies, second of the three parts and the one that most evokes American modernism.

Even so, I had some expectations to overcome. The ballet’s beautiful posters, up in many places around Philadelphia and online, showed Lillian DiPiazza in a green tutu against a green background, but DiPiazza was instead in the opening-night cast of Rubies and will be in Emeralds later in the run.

This time last year, we were bidding farewell to Amy Aldridge, dancing her final performance in Rubies. Her style and choices were also still on my mind.

But much of the delight of live ballet is seeing how different dancers interpret the roles, and Thursday’s cast was all artistry and elegance.

Each section had its strengths. For dance quality, Rubies, set to Stravinsky (and with a piano solo by Martha Koeneman), was the highlight. While DiPiazza did not have the clarity of movement Aldridge displayed last year, she was fast, precise, and exciting. Her partner, Jermel Johnson, was a strong partner, and impressed with his jumps and flexibility.

Camera icon ALEXANDER IZILIAEV
Pennsylvania Ballet in the Rubies section of George Balanchine’s “Jewels.”

Alexandra Hughes also excelled in the strutting steps and deep pliés of Rubies highlighting her gorgeous arched feet.

Diamonds is all things Russian and opulent, from the Tchaikovsky score to the lush pas de deux and promenade that recalls other white ballets: Swan Lake, Les Sylphides, the snow scene in Nutcracker. Dayesi Torriente and Sterling Baca were all things regal and strong (despite one rather large bobble in Torriente’s turns). The eight soloists were responsible for a good amount of the dancing and rose to the occasion, as did the large, lush corps de ballet.

Camera icon ALEXANDER IZILIAEV
Pennsylvania Ballet in the Diamonds section of George Balanchine’s “Jewels.”

For a plotless ballet, there’s still an element of a story, and Emeralds, set to music by Gabriel Fauré recalls a magical forest. The soft, flowy choreography worked well on duos Mayara Pineiro and Arian Molina Soca, and Oksana Maslova and Ian Hussey, interspersed with a lively trio danced by Jacqueline Callahan, Zecheng Liang, and Nayara Lopes.

Some other companies have chosen new costume designs for their productions of Jewels, but I’m glad Pennsylvania Ballet stuck with the originals, designed by Balanchine’s long-time collaborator, Karinska. They’re rich, sparkling, and breathtaking.

Camera icon ALEXANDER IZILIAEV
Pennsylvania Ballet dancers Jacqueline Callahan, Zecheng Liang, and Nayara Lopes in the Emeralds section of George Balanchine’s “Jewels.”

DANCE REVIEW

Pennsylvania Ballet, 'Jewels'

  • Through Sunday at the Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St. Tickets: $25-$149. Information: 215-893-1999 or paballet.org.