Grace, beauty, culture and history are all qualities that encapsulate the unique appeal of both Van Cleef & Arpels and the time-honoured art of ballet. In fact, the connection between this historic jewellery Maison and dance dates back to the 1920s, when Louis Arpels would share his passion for the cultural pastime with his nephew Claude, taking him to Paris’ Opéra Garnier, a short walk from Van Cleef & Arpels’ boutique in the Place Vendôme (still the home of the brand today).
In the 1940s, Louis commissioned the brand to create its first ballerina clips, exquisite depictions of elegant dancers rendered in precious metals and the kinds of jaw-dropping jewels for which Van Cleef & Arpels is so renowned. The clips captured the fluid movement of a tutu, or the poetic twirl of a dancer in motion, crafted in three dimensions to showcase a variety of gems and made to offer moments of whimsy and wonder.
Claude continued the tradition, and when he made the acquaintance of legendary choreographer George Balanchine in the 1960s, it deepened the connection between Van Cleef & Arpels and the world of dance in significant ways. Whether Balanchine was inspired by the Ballerina Clips he saw in the window of Van Cleef & Arpels’ New York store, or whether Claude Arpels had suggested the idea of a ballet to Balanchine directly, no one quite knows, but what eventually grew from the relationship was the ballet Jewels — a truly exquisite masterpiece that Balanchine created in three acts, each dedicated to a precious gemstone and the music of a composer: the emerald with Gabriel Fauré, the ruby with Igor Stravinsky and the diamond, with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Premiering in New York in 1967, Jewels is now considered one of the most significant works of the 20th Century, performed by renowned international companies like the Ballet de l’Opéra national de Paris, the Mariinsky Theatre Ballet in Saint Petersburg and the Royal Ballet in London. Only those deemed worthy (and capable enough) are allowed to take on such a significant work, and now, in honour of its milestone 60th anniversary, The Australian Ballet is the latest company to put its own interpretation on Jewels.
Last week, I was flown by Van Cleef & Arpels to Sydney to witness the beauty of this piece, as performed by The Australian Ballet, and it was truly breathtaking. At a special dinner held before the performance, The Australian Ballet’s Artistic Director, David Hallberg, explained how Balanchine’s choreography for each part of Jewels spoke to his experiences of living in Paris, New York and Russia — and watching it, you could feel the energy of each city weaving through every movement. The jazz influence of New York in rubies, the calm elegance of Paris in emeralds and the dramatic, emotive finale of diamonds, inspired by Imperial Russia.
The costumes were so exquisite, in fact, that at the beginning of each act, the audience would audibly gasp when the curtain rose to reveal the company, sparkling like the precious gems they were representing. And that, set against a soundtrack by some of the most lauded composers in history, married with Balanchine’s impressive choreography, made for an immersive experience that was as aurally arresting as it was visually spectacular, keeping us on the edge of our seats until the final curtain fell.
Despite the Sydney shows having ended last week, The Australian Ballet is now taking Jewels to Melbourne, where they will perform it at the Arts Centre Melbourne from the 29th of June to the 8th of July. They will then tour the show to London in August, where they will perform at the Royal Opera House. If you happen to be heading across the ditch or find yourself in London over those times, I highly recommend experiencing this seminal work for yourselves. Clearly, the relationship between Van Cleef & Arpels and international ballet companies is as strong today as when it was first established, and is as creatively fulfilling for both entities as it is for those of us lucky enough to experience the magic first-hand.
If you want to experience the beauty of Van Cleef & Arpels‘ Ballerina Clips or indeed any of this brand’s lauded collections, visit the Auckland flagship boutique at 22-24 Queen Street.