Jewels (1967) by George Balanchine for New York City Ballet was the first full-length abstract ballet.
Balanchine began working the concept in his Symphony in C (originally titled Le Palais de Cristal, “The Crystal Palace”) for the Paris Opera in 1947. A visit to the Van Cleef & Arpels store on the corner of the Bergdorf Goodman building on Fifth Avenue and 57th St inspired him to develop the idea further into Jewels.
Emeralds is set to Gabriel Fauré, Rubies is set to Igor Stravinsky, and Diamonds is set to Tschaikovsky.
Balanchine loved women. This ballet is a very Russian expression of that love. Russians love bling and Balanchine saw his dancers as jewels, literally. He put the Van Cleef & Arpels store window onto a New York stage and transformed tiaras and necklaces into a corps of dancers. It’s a bit psychedelic in a way.
He may also have been making a broad statement about ballet culture and perhaps even Russian history.
Consider ballet as an Italian court dance, developed in the French royal court, preserved in the royal courts of Russia and Denmark, reintroduced to the world out of Paris, and developed further in New York City by Balanchine himself.
Jewels opens with Emeralds in a medieval French forest. Rubies travels to a jazzy modern red urban America. Diamonds closes with grand imperial Russian classicism cloaked in white. These are all the elements that Balanchine fused into New York City Ballet.
The Reds and Whites were sides in the Russian Revolution. One represented a modern future and the other a classical past. Instead of seeking his future in Russia, Balanchine sought his future in the United States. He transformed his classical Russian background into something very contemporary.