Thursday, September 26, 2013

Boston Ballet's big bow

The Common last Saturday night. Photo: Daniel Blue

Last Saturday marked not only the official beginning of Boston Ballet's 50th Anniversary Season, but also a big step up for the company in terms of the city's popular consciousness: the Ballet threw a giant, free dance party (okay, officially its "Night of Stars" gala) that drew upwards of 55,000 people to the Common (above) to see for themselves how far Boston's dance ambassadors to the world have come.

And I think people left - well, impressed, to say the least, and not just because the whole extravaganza came off without a hitch. The weather gods smiled upon us, and delivered a breezy, deliciously cool Indian-summer night; the facilities seemed adequate to the crowd (although more video screens would have been nice); and in general, an atmosphere of happy civility and joie de vivre reigned.

What was most striking about the evening, however - what I'll always remember, in fact - was the amazing silence that held sway across the Common during the program's dazzling second half. Imagine 55,000 people absolutely still, in rapt attention; the crowd was as focused as Red Sox fans at the last pitch of the play-offs. I think the only sounds audible (aside from the music, played with passion throughout by the Ballet's own orchestra) were the coughs of the traffic on Beacon Street.  For a brief hour, it seemed that the beauty unfolding on the Ballet's stage had stilled the hand of time itself.

But you couldn't blame the audience for being transfixed.  The performances  in the second half - of Jorma Elo's stunningly kinetic Plan to B, and Balanchine's transporting Serenade (see masthead) - did indeed showcase the Ballet at its best. These works have been in the repertory for years, and every time they return, they seem honed to an even finer point.  Saturday's versions were masterpieces, with gasp-inducing turns from Whitney Jensen, Dusty Button, Isaac Akiba, Bo Busby, Jeffrey Cirio and Sabi Varga in Plan to B (which is as demanding as an Olympics floor routine) and gorgeous work from Ashley Ellis, Kathleen Breen Combes, Brittany Summer, Nelson Madrigal and Bradley Schlagheck in Serenade. I also have to list the entire female corps from the Balanchine, because the success of Serenade rests squarely on their shoulders, and they were simply perfection on Saturday.  So here's the full roll call: Maria Alvarez, Dawn Atkins, Kathryn Boren, Yoko Callegari, Ji Young Chae, Ekaterine Chubinidze, Lauren Herfindahl, Brittany Stone, Kimberly Uphoff, Sarah Wroth, Emily Entingh, Brett Fukuda and Kathryn McDonald.  To each of you, my sincere thanks; I've never seen a Serenade with a finer corps than yours.

Aram Karapetyan as the Golden Idol.  Photo: Rosalie O'Connor.

But if I've been going on (and on) about the program's second half, that doesn't mean I wasn't enthralled by the first.  Although I must admit I'm no longer keen on seeing Balanchine's Symphony in Three Movements at occasions like this. The dancers threw themselves into it, as they always do, but it's almost too complicated to take in at a first sitting, and its irony seems to go slightly wrong before a wide public; I could feel the crowd growing slightly perplexed as it proceeded.

Luckily, they'd already been pleased by a virtuosic pas de deux from Don Quixote (essayed by the Ballet's most charming perfectionists, Misa Kuranaga and Jeffrey Cirio), and newcomer Avetik Karapetyan's exotically commanding solo as the "Golden Idol" from La Bayadère (above).  But they seemed only lukewarm to Christopher Bruce's Rooster (even though it's set to hits by the Rolling Stones), although the best choreography in the piece (to "Sympathy for the Devil") did seem to rivet them. Surprisingly, I felt a stronger response to the customary premiere; this year, in another nice gesture, the company turned on its biggest night to one of its own, former dancer Viktor Plotnikov, a talented choreographer whose work I've lobbied for in the past.  He delivered a sweetly rueful take on a musical chestnut, Saint-Saëns' "The Swan," here rendered as a gentle portrait of a choreographic couple (the great Lorna Feijóo and Yury Yanowsky) captured in mid-dance and late-love.  It was a hauntingly personal touch in an evening generally marked by dazzling public triumph.

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