|| The Boston Globe
|| May 14, 2011
|| Thea Singer
In last night’s mixed bill of George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins ballets, the Boston Ballet played cool chivalry against diaphanous heat, architechtonics against glancing intimacy. That the dancers could swing between these extremes is a mark of their tenacity, courage, and sheer technical prowess. That they didn’t excel in all realms highlights the audacity of the task they set for themselves.
Balanchine’s choreography requires that dancers strip themselves bare: Their bodies, in all their majesty — and humility — become the circles and zigzags, the angles and arcs and starbursts that light up the points and counterpoints, the rhythms and accents and changes in key of the music from which Balanchine’s dances spring.
His “Divertimento No. 15’’ (1956), set to Mozart’s work of the same title, pairs five women soloists with three men and a corps of eight women, to journey through — among other things — a theme and six variations to arrive at a place where pomp meets civility. The men, switching partners as easily as breathing, manage to keep all five soloists engaged. Erica Cornejo’s feet nearly blur from their speed, but it is Lorna Feijóo, packing each note chock full while never seeming rushed, who sends T.S. Eliot’s words reeling through my head: “You are the music/While the music lasts.’’ Jaime Diaz is elegant, and James Whiteside powerful and lyrical at once. Yet Feijóo alone embodies Balanchine’s exquisite musicality.
Balanchine’s “Symphony in Three Movements’’ (1972), to Stravinsky’s booming, astringent score, could have overwhelmed the stage with its prancing, ponytailed corps of 16, its three couples shooting sparks of pink amid the general white and black, and its kaleidoscopic traffic transforming vivid diagonal lines into circling, pump-armed walks and semaphoric arms shooting out from both wings. Motifs — angled-knee jumps and legs turned in-then-out — hit like acid on metal. Lia Cirio and Whiteside hook arms at the elbow and twist their wrists like wrung cloths before she pulls into a back attitude so taut her foot flexes in response. In one remarkable sequence, he lifts her so high her feet land on his chest, then he turns the move inside out, slipping her, with hands still shielding her eyes, between his legs. And yet … at points, despite the now-jazzy, now-quirky relentless action, the ball got dropped, and the explosiveness dissipated a bit.
Robbins’s contributions, on the other hand, while formalist in their structure, relied on a story as well; they spoke of relationships: between women, between men and women, between art and life, and between the present and layers of the past.
“Afternoon of a Faun’’ (1953), set to Debussy, is a moment suspended in time. It has echoes of Nijinsky’s infamous 1912 version of the tale, in which the faun, replete with horns and tail, lusts after a nymph in two-dimensional movement that recalls a character on a Greek vase.
In Robbins’s version, the “faun’’ is a male dancer, in a bare studio with the fourth wall — the stage end facing to the audience — as the studio mirror, and the “nymph’’ is either a woman in his dream or an actual ballerina who’s come to practice. Each dances alone, looking in the mirror, even while they partner — with only brief points when their eyes meet. Whitney Jensen is remarkable: She’s all innocence and wonder, touched by the narcissism of youth. As she sinks into a grande plie in fifth, or is turned on point by the striking Sabi Varga, you, too, can’t be sure whether she’s real or a figment of his imagination.
Robbins’s “Antique Epigraphs’’ (1984), also to Debussy, for eight women, is a modern interpretation of music originally written to accompany what was initially believed to be newly discovered poetry of Sappho (it wasn’t). Still, it conveys the loving relationships that Sappho spoke of — the softness and warmth that bind us to one another.