Jewels, Royal Opera House, London

A twinkle-toed return to form
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The Independent Culture

George Balanchine's Jewels is a company showcase, glittering with solo roles. After an injury-plagued season, The Royal Ballet is getting back to strength. This first night still had some weaknesses, but it also had Alina Cojocaru, recently recovered, dancing the lead "Diamonds" ballerina role with a luminous beauty.

Jewels is fast becoming the Balanchine ballet most likely to turn up in world repertory. As an evening-length work with a glamorous name, it's easier to market than shorter works. In fact, Jewels is three plotless ballets. Each has a different mood, evoking a country as well as a gem.

"Emeralds" suggests France, with long, Romantic tutus. The Fauré music is tenderly conducted by Valeriy Ovsyanikov. It's courtly and elegiac, the dancers pacing to and fro in shimmering patterns. Tamara Rojo curls her arms voluptuously as if showing off bracelets. Leanne Benjamin is even better, ethereal but still light and sharp. Picking up her skirts, she flutters through her steps, like a princess playing sideways hopscotch. Steven McRae bounds joyfully through the pas de trois.

"Rubies" is the surefire hit of Jewels, with its showgirl poses and jazzy score. Balanchine and Stravinsky both moved from Russia to America, and here they're both responding to the energy of a new world. The dancers prance and run, switching direction, taking radical risks with weight and balance. Yet this Royal Ballet performance was airless, with the dancers missing the outrageous quality of these steps. Alexandra Ansanelli is perky where she should be gravity-defying. Carlos Acosta's dancing is big and confident, but lacks the firecracker sizzle of the male lead. Laura McCulloch has momentum, but needs precision.

"Diamonds" looks back to the tutu classics of the 19th century, to Tchaikovsky and the imperial Russia that Balanchine grew up with. There's some padding in Balanchine's dances for the corps, but who cares, with Cojocaru back and dancing like this?

As Rupert Pennefather lifts her, Cojocaru unfurls slowly in mid-air. Her frame is tiny, but the movement is huge: an expansive sweep that reaches to the horizons. Her speedy solos are sunny and serene. Pennefather's partnering is chivalrous, his dancing both confident and bold.

In "Rubies", Balanchine's switches of weight and direction are daring. In "Diamonds", they're just as extreme – but here, they're grand and mysterious. Cojocaru twists in the air, splendid and delicate. Her phrasing brings out accents of music and dance. She turns her head as Pennefather touches her shoulder, a delighted "oh! it's you", without breaking the flow of the dance, or its majesty.

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