Who were the women who inspired George Balanchine’s Jewels?

Guest writer: Sarah Meals, marketing manager

There are mixed reports on what exactly inspired George Balanchine to choreograph his three-act abstract ballet Jewels.  Some texts say he admired the famous Van Cleef and Arpels jewelry firm, and the gemstones were the actual inspiration for the movement.  Other texts say the ballet had nothing to do with jewels; the dancers were just dressed like gems by way of Karinska’s famous costumes.  Regardless, most reports confirm that Balanchine was equally inspired by his musical selections (Fauré, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky) and three ballerinas whom he adored:  Violette Verdy, Patricia McBride, and perhaps most of all, Suzanne Farrell.

Violette Verdy was a French ballerina who danced with New York City Ballet from 1958 to 1977.  Verdy was an unusual addition to New York City Ballet due to her idiosyncratic way of accenting the music, a trait which may not have appealed to Balanchine.  However, within two years of joining the company, Balanchine created six roles especially for her.  Her moody, soul-searching spirit was perfect for the first soloist role in Emeralds, which required extended legato dance phrases.  After retiring from the stage, Verdy held brief directorship stints at Paris Opéra Ballet and Boston Ballet before becoming a guest teacher and choreographer.

Patricia McBride danced with New York City Ballet from 1959 to 1989 and became one of its most beloved stars.  McBride never quite fit the conventional image of a Balanchine ballerina, but she sailed through some of Balanchine’s most difficult classical ballets, such as Theme and Variations.  Balanchine choreographed the lead role of Rubies on her, showcasing her ability to dance breathtakingly complex choreography with a teasing, lighthearted smile.  Her huge eyes endeared her to New York City Ballet audiences.  She is perhaps best known for creating the role of Swanilda in Balanchine’s version of Coppélia.

Suzanne Farrell is one of the most highly regarded American ballerinas of the 20th century.  She joined New York City Ballet in 1961, eventually working her way up to principal status, until she retired in 1989.  Farrell took a brief 5-year leave of absence from New York City Ballet (1970-1975) when she married fellow dancer Paul Mejia, which strained her relationship with Balanchine.

Balanchine referred to Farrell as his “Stradivarius.”  She was one of the Balanchine’s greatest muses, and he created countless works on her.  The Diamonds pas de deux showed off Farrell’s limitless capacities for classical dancing and reflected Balanchine’s reverence for her.  Ms. Farrell now runs her own dance company, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, which performs at the Kennedy Center.  She was one of five recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2005.


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