The Sarasota Ballet celebrates ten years under the guidance of director Iain Webb with the company premiere of Jewels, an abstract ballet in three parts choreographed by the father of American ballet, George Balanchine. Audiences saw the first two acts from Jewels in past seasons, but this will be the first time the company has received permission from the Balanchine Trust to perform the piece in its entirety and present the grand finale. “It’s a benchmark for how the company’s doing,” says Assistant Director Margaret Barbieri, and a signal to the international ballet scene that Sarasota Ballet is a major player. Webb agrees: “You step up a level if you get permission to do Jewels.” Considered the first full-length abstract ballet, each of Jewels’ three acts—“Emeralds,” “Rubies” and “Diamonds”—reflects a particular style of ballet, from the elegance of the French mode to the upstart jazziness of the American school and the Imperial grandeur of classic Russian ballet, set to the work of composers Fauré, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky respectively. Without a story to define—or constrain—the choreography, the beauty of an abstract ballet lies in its direct relationship with the music that inspired it, says Webb. “The music comes through the body,” he says, “and it’s just pure dance.” Demanding large casts of dancers capable of performing in a variety of styles, merely the ability to stage Balanchine’s Jewels retains a level of prestige in the ballet world, with Sarasota Ballet joining the likes of the Royal Ballet in London and the New York City Ballet, which Balanchine co-founded, in producing Jewels this season. To those who wonder, “Why Sarasota?” Webb simply says, “Why not?” He’s got the company, the audience and even a couple more Balanchine ballets up his sleeve, waiting to take the stage when he knows the time is right.

With live music from the Sarasota Orchestra, the Sarasota Ballet’s production of George Balanchine’s Jewels comes to the Van Wezel for three performances this December 16–17.