|| Boston Herald
|| May 14, 2011
|| Kaith Powers
The marquee said Opera House and the program said Boston Ballet, but Thursday’s season finale opener of works by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins was a trip back to New York in the 1960s.
It’s overly simplistic to think of Balanchine as the choreographer of Lincoln Center and Robbins as the choreographer of Broadway. Granted, Robbins is best known for his stagings of musicals such as “The King and I,” “Pajama Game,” “West Side Story,” “Gypsy” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” But for decades Robbins created classical ballets as well, and his works are original and alluring.
His “Afternoon of the Faun” was perhaps the highlight of this eventful evening. Stripped down psychologically, all that remains of Nijinsky’s original setting is the narcissism of the dancers. Imagined by pinup-girl-sexy Whitney Jensen and poster boy-perfect Sabi Varga, the couple preens, primps and flexes in front of an imaginary mirror in a series of lifts, touches and poses that demand unceasing attention. What’s astonishing is how little dancing there is — and how much like dancing it seems. In the end, one wishes that Debussy had written more than just 10 minutes of music.
Balanchine wasn’t shortchanged. His setting of Mozart’s “Divertimento No. 15” showed that he may be the choreographer who interprets music best of any, and that Mozart is his optimum inspiration. Five brilliant sections, some ensemble, some solo, not only captured the complexity and elegance of Mozart but enhanced it.
The work of the eight soloists, individually re-creating the theme and variations section, was stunning, especially that of James Whiteside. He danced beautifully all evening in multiple roles. Easily the tallest soloist, he usually impresses with his length and strength, creating a striking visual field horizontally and vertically. Interpreting this role, seemingly for a much smaller man, Whiteside proved that grace can come in tall packages as well.
The program also included Robbins’ “Antique Epigraphs,” with its somewhat dated exoticism, and Balanchine’s substantial setting of Stravinsky’s “Symphony in Three Movements,” which offered crisp ensemble work, even with the stage overcrowded and hectic at times, and some dancers visibly tired from the exhausting program.