|| Boston Phoenix
|| September 22, 2009
|| Jeffrey Gantz
Is Boston in the midst of a ballet boom? You could certainly believe that if you attended Boston Ballet’s fourth annual season-opening gala last Saturday. The company is trumpeting its move from the 3600-seat Wang Theatre to the more intimate 2600-seat Opera House as the beginning of a new era. Five soloists — Kathleen Breen Combes, Pavel Gurevich, Melissa Hough, Misa Kuranaga, and James Whiteside — have been promoted to principal (you might wonder how the company can afford 11 principals when it had just seven last season), and 17-year-old Whitney Jensen, already a multiple-competition winner, has been added to the corps. The Paris Opera Ballet–style défilé — a kind of company introduction in which the dancers come on stage one by one, each to the cheers of his or her fans — that graced the first two galas is back as well. There was more energy on stage than there was last year, and also in the sold-out house.
The program was the usual mix of highlights past and future with a couple of novelties, a bit of home choreography, and a pair of guest stars. From 2007–2008 there was part three of Helen Pickett’s Eventide, and from the past season, Jirí Kylián’s Petite Mort, the opening waltz movement from George Balanchine’s Diamonds, the Rose Adagio fromThe Sleeping Beauty, and Vaslav Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun. Hough and Whiteside choreographed and danced Zero Hour; Jensen appeared with corps members Isaac Akiba and Jeffrey Cirio in an excerpt from Marius Petipa’s 1900 ballet Harlequinade; principal Larissa Ponomarenko solo’d in an excerpt from Aleksandr Radunsky’s 1961The Little Humpbacked Horse. The two pas de deux were from classical ballets that will be given this season: Giselle, with company principals Erica Cornejo and Nelson Madrigal, and Coppélia, with the Royal Ballet’s Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg.
The crowd pleasers were the Eventide excerpt, Pickett’s In the Upper Room knockoff (complete with Philip Glass’s rewrite of part of his Upper Room score), and Petite Mort, Kylián’s unsettling essay on men and women set to the slow movements from Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos. 23 and 21. These showed off the company’s command of a modern ballet vocabulary. The pas de deux made for a pallid contrast, Cornejo and Madrigal æthereal but emotionally neutral in Giselle, Cojocaru and Kobborg boasting the easy grace and artistry of mature professionals but, Cojocaru’s 10-second unsupported balance on pointe aside (and she shouldn’t have tried to repeat it), not much bravura.
Altan Dugaraa looked even more primal as Nijinsky’s Faun than he did last May; Misa Kuranaga, on the other hand, offered a more tentative and nervous Rose Adagio. The three party pieces were just that. Hough and Whiteside set Zero Hour to the Allegro first movement of the Winter concerto from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons; perhaps that’s why they included a number of pair-figure-skating moves. Akiba and Cirio were Columbine’s cheeky wanna-be suitors in Harlequinade, with dueling tours à seconde; Jensen, on this bit of evidence, is tall, slim, blonde, and talented, but far from finished. Ponomarenko cantered through Radunsky’s alternating shoulder shimmies and chaîné turns like a show jumper looking for a greater challenge; it didn’t seem the right piece for the company’s prima ballerina.
Dancing with corps member Boyko Dossev in Petite Mort, however, Ponomarenko gave Mozart’s “Elvira Madigan” music a spiky elegance. The other star of the evening was the orchestra, which under music director Jonathan McPhee spoke out loud and bold in an endorsement of the Opera House’s new orchestra pit (which McPhee designed) and the venue’s acoustics. Stay tuned for Giselle starting next Thursday.