Jewels

The New York City Ballet on Wednesday, January 2.

Watching Jewels, George Balanchine’s “first abstract full-evening ballet,” I always felt slightly overwhelmed, like there was too much happening on stage to process it all. Without really thinking about it, I had assumed the lack of narrative would make the ballet less busy, free as it is from the distractions of plot and character, but actually the opposite is true. A story organizes the action: you know who is important, where they’re going, and what the dance “means.” An abstract ballet strips that framework away, forcing you to make sense of everything on your own.

Thus deprived of my crutch, I enjoyed Jewels but felt a bit daunted by it. Of course I’ve seen abstract work before, but the sheer magnitude of this “full-evening” ballet made it feel different. But I had the music, beautiful and familiar, to lean on, and I had the company’s obvious familiarity with the work to lead me, and in the end, no degree of intimidation could dull the sparkle of Jewels.