|| The New York Times
|| May 10, 2010
|| Alastair Macaulay
This season, after many years of performing at the Wang Center here, the Boston Ballet moved to the Opera House. The Wang, which seats 3,600 people, has always been a barn too large for most dance programs. The Opera House — which, seating 2,600, is still larger than almost any European opera house — has been through a checkered history since it opened as a vaudeville theater in 1928; last year it reopened after being dark for more than 10 years.
The Opera House is looking elegant (though the lighting in the auditorium is too dim in several places to make it easy to read a program). I hope its stage conditions suit the scenery for the company’s more theatrically elaborate productions, like its excellent “Sleeping Beauty.”
“Ultimate Balanchine,” the troupe’s current triple bill, employs no scenery for the first two ballets, “The Four Temperaments” (1946) and “Apollo” (1928). When the curtain rises on the tutus, white gauze curtains and chandelier for “Theme and Variations” (1947), the Boston audience gasps in relief. (The “Theme” costumes are by Jens-Jacob Worsaae; the scenery is unattributed.)
Boston audiences see Balanchine choreography each year, but have infrequent exposure to his most sparsely decorated modernist works. You could feel the initial resistance in the house to the first two pieces. In each case, the choreography eventually won; you could feel it happen with the high-kicking entry of four Melancholic female soloists in “Temperaments” and with Apollo’s pas de deux with Terpsichore.
Boston audiences would surely respond better to the uncut pre-1979 “Apollo,” with its functional-scenery staircase, birth scene, stronger suggestions of narrative and final ascent to Parnassus, rather than the 1980 text seen here and in most current stagings. When I saw that uncut “Apollo” in Washington again last March, I appreciated how much more immediately it captures the imagination of a general audience, as well as affords a more multilayered experience for the connoisseur.
Balanchine was a notorious tinkerer; his final thoughts were not always his best. Still, even in this reduced form — staged at Boston by Ben Huys — you could feel what is so singular about “Apollo”: the work-in-progress air that makes Apollo and the three Muses seem young and experimental. At each of the Boston performances, I noticed more of the ballet’s moments of struggle and self-contradiction.
I saw two casts over three performances, each better than the one before. The senior cast, led by Yury Yanowsky as Apollo, was too collected and reverential on Saturday afternoon, but on Sunday afternoon had lightened up remarkably: quite some transformation.
Saturday evening’s cast, led by Pavel Gurevich, was more spontaneous. Neither Apollo was quite right: Mr. Yanowsky is too stern and artful (this must seem the most pristine of all ballets), while the more youthful but sunken-chested Mr. Gurevich has the least Apollonian torso I have ever seen in this role. Yet they kept the action suspenseful: you had that most crucial theater sense of wanting to know what would happen next.
The two Polyhymnias, Misa Kuranaga and the young newcomer Whitney Jensen, were both outstanding in the difficult steps; Ms. Jensen, with her pale blond hair, brings a blithe ease to the role that makes me long to see her in other parts. The range of color that Melissa Hough brought to Terpsichore left the stronger impression, but Lia Cirio’s precision and sweep were also welcome.
How seriously classical is Boston Ballet? When I recall how the troupe looked 30 years ago, I see it has come a vast distance. Several of its dancers are striking by national and international standards. The company’s repertory is at least as diverse as any other American troupe’s. After this Balanchine program, it dances a triple bill by Jiri Kylian, and its resident choreographer is Jorma Elo: two of the world’s stylistically most anti-classical choreographers. So the question of classical excellence keeps arising. It is a rare dancer who can serve idioms so opposed with equal skill.
Though Boston has some female dancers whose classical prowess I question, they weren’t cast in this Balanchine triple bill. The Boston dancer I currently most hunger to see, Kathleen Breen Combes (promoted last year to principal status), a brunette, danced Choleric in “Temperaments.” Though she was returning to the stage after an injury, her attack and fullness of tone were gorgeous to behold. She’s a natural Balanchine stylist, with qualities of wit, voluptuousness and even glee that make her gifts of attack and sweep become multifaceted. She has the role’s explosiveness; but she also highlights little moments of jazziness with an irrepressible twinkle.
Coached by Merrill Ashley, all three ballerinas in the exacting central role of “Theme and Variations” — Ms. Cirio (Saturday afternoon), Ms. Kuranaga (Saturday evening), Erica Cornejo (Sunday) — coped brightly with its arduous technical demands. Ms. Kuranaga, a formidable technician, was especially brilliant, but the high definition Ms. Cornejo brought to the opening solo won applause (curiously, she had the least definition in the second one), and the somewhat unspontaneous Ms. Cirio achieved eventual victory by demonstrating the role’s contrasts.
Yet none of these women opened up all the ranges of color this great role can have; the pas de deux and the all-female-supported adagio tended toward the monochrome. As Sanguinic in “Temperaments” (staged by Sandra Jennings), the redhead Ms. Hough — fleet, sharp, bright, but also with qualities of stretch and surprise — currently looks to be the company’s finest Balanchine stylist after Ms. Combes.
On the evidence of this program, Boston’s men are more variable. Carlos Molina (in “Theme” and in the Phlegmatic variation of “Temperaments”) and Nelson Madrigal (in “Theme”) both lose focus as their big solos proceed. The company’s outstanding male dancer is James Whiteside (who partnered Ms. Kuranaga in “Theme”). When he crossed the stage in the great vaulting diagonal, his ronds de jambe sautés crested the air with all the excitement that made full sense of this moment. He was even better as Sanguinic in “Temperaments.” There are other signs of male talent here, notably John Lam (Melancholic in “Temperaments”).
The company isn’t stylistically unified, but it dances this program with concentration and, better yet, self-discovery. Though the male corps only enters “Theme” for its finale, you could see all of them hungrily seizing the moment — burning their jumps onto the air.