Sunday, May 27, 2012

Watching the "Next Generation" at Boston Ballet

I'm late with several reviews - and one of those is the note I've been meaning to post for over a week regarding Boston Ballet's "Next Generation" performance, which occurred during the run of Fancy Free.

"Next Generation" is an annual showcase of the rising talent in the Boston Ballet School's pre-professional program, joined onstage by the dancers of Boston Ballet II, the company-within-a-company at the Ballet that serves as a bridge between the completion of schooling and a full-fledged professional career.  The evening is always a charming occasion, but it's all the more remarkable because the entire program is accompanied by the New England Conservatory Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Mark Churchill.  So not only are we watching the dancers of tomorrow, we're hearing the musicians of tomorrow as well.

Brittany Stone and Trevor Felixbrod in The Eighth Layer.
The program always opens with Les Passages, a pleasing promenade designed to highlight the progression of training, choreographed by the School's faculty (above).  The students were all delightful, of course, with a clean, consistent standard of focus in evidence everywhere.  My only thought was that the boys this year got the better choreography - a rambunctious suite of jumps that inevitably drew the loudest applause.  The same gap held true for the students' second appearances, in Alla Nikitina's "Dance of the Girls" and "Lesginka," both drawn from Georgian (as in Russian) folk motifs; the boys just got to do more.

The sexes were on more equal footing, however, in The Eighth Layer, a premiere by the Ballet's own Yury Yanowsky, featuring dancers from Boston Ballet II, and set to a new score commissioned from Berklee grad (and rising light in the world of film scoring) Lucas Vidal.  The dance proved something of a sensation; it was conceived as a meditation on "the relationship between space and energy"- which sounds, I know, like gassy nonsense - but it actually did evoke a sense of quarks popping in and out of some fluctuating quantum field, and thanks to the utter commitment of the Ballet II dancers, often crackled with visceral, athletic thrills.  Vidal's music - a more romantic variant of Philip Glass - was likewise seductively exciting.  The only problem with the piece, actually, was that it currently lacks a satisfying finish; but I'd be eager to see the Ballet stage it again, more fully, with perhaps an expanded score from Vidal, just to see how far its sparks can travel.

At the conclusion of the program, the Ballet II dancers mixed it up with the School's senior trainees in Balanchine's  Raymonda Variations, a pillar of purified classicism that's challenging for young dancers, but not too challenging.  The trainees made Balanchine's demanding corps work look easy, but Ballet II leads Lauren Herfindhal and Matthew Poppe stole the show all the same - especially Poppe, whose cabrioles (and particularly their landings) were things of limpid grace and beauty.

Lauren Herfindhal and Matthew Poppe in Raymonda Variations - Photos: Rosalie O'Connor
I can't close this notice, however, without taking special notice of the artists who were in the pit rather than on the stage. Under Mark Churchill's direction, the young musicians of the New England Conservatory Youth Philharmonic Orchestra were in startlingly strong form throughout the evening - indeed, through most of the performance they could have easily been mistaken for a professional orchestra (and concertmaster Momo Wong's solos were something spectacular).  Sometimes the future of the performing arts looks bright indeed, and "Next Generation" was just such an occasion.

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