Saturday, May 15, 2010

Who's next at Boston Ballet

Yurika Kitano and company member Isaac Akiba in "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux." Photo by Liza Voll.

I spent last Wednesday night at Boston Ballet's "Next Generation" program, which is a chance for students from the Ballet's many schools, north and south, to strut their stuff before an audience of relatives and friends. The "spring showcase," of course, is an annual rite of passage, but this year the kids got to perform on the stage of the Opera House itself, during the company's run of "Ultimate Balanchine," so the concert was just that much more exciting for everyone involved. There was also live music this time around, provided by the capable New England Conservatory Youth Symphony, under the direction of Steven Karidoyanes, which sounded its spirited best in the opening "Thunder and Lightning Polka," which one guessed from its polish was one of the group's showpieces.

The Opera House program was limited to the Ballet's pre-professional and trainee students, so we didn't get to see the littlest ones in the Ballet's programs. The cuteness factor was therefore kept to a manageable level (more's the pity), although the youngest girls in their toe shoes were still plenty adorable, despite their obvious aplomb (when one sweetheart took a spill, she simply carried on with remarkable self-possession - she was no baby!). I'm not sure why it's so delightful to see lines of determined young people carry off graceful moves in sequence, as was the case in the "passagework" section; it just is.

But it's worth pointing out that, perhaps because of the Opera House setting, the Ballet had clearly raised the artistic bar for the rest of the program; in fact, some of the performances of the evening would not have been out of place in its own season. Jorma Elo, the Ballet's resident choreographer, had contributed a short new work, "One Concerto," set to a chunk of Philip Glass, which the trainee students (particularly the women, Danyla Bezerra, Julia Mitchell, Amber Neff and Melanie Riffee) carried off with swiveling élan; the surprise, however, was that this punchy little number turned out to be one of Elo's better ballets. I'd like to see the professionals of the company itself do it, and I certainly hope the Ballet doesn't forget about it.

Other highlights included appearances by the members of Boston Ballet II and the company's corps, with whom the trainee students often blended seamlessly in a lovely, if somewhat long, excerpt from Bournonville's Napoli. Showing everyone how the thing is done, however, were Yurika Kitano and Isaac Akiba (both of whom rose through the Ballet's training programs) who sparkled in Balanchine's "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux." Mr. Akiba in particular did the best dancing I've ever seen him do, with clean jumps of startling grace and power. I even thought I caught a glimpse of the trainees taking notes.