Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Starry, starry night

The recent Boston Ballet gala, "A Night of Stars," took last year's template to the next level: this benefit is more than ever not merely a choreographic dazzler but an in-depth introduction to the company, past and present. Indeed, before it even began, the production touched on something close to the heart of the company: it was dedicated to the memory of Cathryn S. Keith, who passed away this fall at age 97, and who for years had served as a kind of guardian angel to the company (at every opening she cut an elegant figure in a demure suit with matching headband). Furthering the family-reunion mood, Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen expanded the choreographic contributions from the company itself: the evening featured performances of "Found" by Heather Myers (who had a success last year with "One Constant") and "Crane" by newcomer Boyko Dossev. Even the Ballet's students took the stage in the final défilé (a canny move on the Ballet's part - probably all those parents bought tickets), which proved charming, and even a little touching (given the inevitable gawkiness poking through the carefully studied moves).

More importantly, over the course of the evening, just about every soloist in the Ballet had his or her moment in the spotlight - in a smorgasbord of styles that began to get almost dizzying; there was stark modernism, more than a dash of hyperactive post-modernism, a classic pas de deux, and even a Scottish reel (or "Cubans in Kilts!" as my companion giggled). What was most striking, however, was how well almost everything was brought off, although perhaps the evening didn't have the deeply moving moments that graced last year's event. And there were, of course, a few longeurs: the sticky-sweet "Fairy Doll" was too long by half, and the new work by Myers, "Found," didn't really mark an advance, and seemed to run out of steam. I'm also not really sold on Helen Pickett's "Etesian," which to me looks like watered-down Forsythe (Pickett's still with us, however - she'll have a premiere with the company later in the season).

But almost everything else in the program was brilliant. Most startling was the improvement in the corps, particularly in the Balanchine offerings - the wedding dance from A Midsummer Night's Dream came off with a synchronized grace it lacked last year (above, in a photo for the Globe by Evan Richman), and "Choleric" from The Four Temperaments was finally etched with the icy edge Mr. B intended.

Perhaps as a result, the evening's stars glittered all the brighter. Lorna Feijóo and Reyneris Reyes were in top form as both actors and dancers in a delightfully bawdy excerpt from Taming of the Shrew, while Larissa Ponomarenko and Roman Rykine skillfully reprised their elegant, meditative duet from Midsummer. Dossev's "Crane," though a bit clichéd in its sentiments, was still evocative in performance (the interlocking positions that echoed the central origami bird were particularly striking), and Altankhuyag Dugaraa essayed a gripping death scene for a male avian in Roland Petit's "Le Cygne Noir." A brief burst of Jorma Elo's Brake the Eyes proved more exciting than the full work, while Yury Yanowsky and Kathleen Breen Combes made a chill chaser of the twisted pas de deux from Polyphonia. Yanowsky, Combes, and John Lam even pulled off that reel from La Sylphide.

The most stunning moment of the evening, however, came from a brother/sister act - Boston's Erica Cornejo prevailed on brother Herman Cornejo - a star of ABT - to join her in a dazzling display from The Flames of Paris. The ballet is a standard-issue Soviet paean to revolution, but it requires bravura technique, and the Cornejos definitely filled the bill - particularly the electrifying Herman, whose supple strength seemed all but infinite. Alas, Boston still doesn't have a male star who can match that. But as the students of the Boston Ballet School, the Ballet II Company, and finally the Company itself made their way across the stage in the final procession, one couldn't help but scan all that talent, past and future, and think perhaps the brightest stars at Boston Ballet are yet to shine.

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