|| July 7, 2013
|| Jane Lambert
What better way to spend the 4 July than with Americans? Americans bring a zest to ballet. I first noticed it as a young graduate student when I saw New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center. I saw it again when American Ballet Theatre brought Cynthia Gregory and Carla Fracci to Covent Garden as America's gift to the silver jubilee celebrations of 1977. Such zest almost exploded when the Dance Theatre of Harlem came over. There are magnificent companies in Russia, Denmark and, of course, our own country but none of them have excited me as much as those Americans.
On Thursday I experienced excitement again when I saw Boston Ballet at the Coliseum. They danced a quadruple bill:
Choreographed in 1934 Serenade was the first great American ballet and was tremendously influential in the USA (see Toni Bentley "The Ballet that changed Everything" 3 Sep 2010 Wall Street Journal) Although it alludes to the great 19th century ballets with a Tchaikovsky score it is nevertheless very American with more than a touch of Hollywood about it. There is no scenery or props to speak of. Just the corps de ballet in romantic tutus bathed in blue. As the curtain rose there was a collective gasp and then spontaneous applause. To understand why, take a butcher's at Cheryl Angear's photos in "Serenaded by Boston Ballet" of 4 July 2013 in her excellent blog Ballet News. I learned today that the planet Mercury has a crater called "Balanchine" because it generates blue rays reminiscent of the lighting and costumes of the ballet.
On the 4 July the main roles were danced by Kathleen Breen Combes, Dusty Button,Seo Hye Han, Bo Busby and Nelson Madrigal. All danced well but I have to say that I was captivated by Breen Combes. It was the first time I had seen her and she was dazzling. I was instantly reminded of Fracci when she danced at the Royal Opera House all those years ago.
So far as I know Serenade is not in the repertoire of any British company.That is a pity because it is a lovely ballet. The score is haunting and soaring and accompanies the other worldliness of the blue bathed stage perfectly. I saw the show with a student from my adult ballet class in Huddersfield who had taken class for years yet had somehow managed to reach adulthood without ever having seen ballet on the stage. I was quite envious of her because I can think of no better introduction to ballet than Serenade.
The next work was one that had hooked me onto ballet nearly 50 years ago: Nijinsky's L'après-midi d'un faune. I was drawn to the ballet by the richness of Leon Bakst's design rather than the choreography. This ballet has been controversial ever since the day it was first performed by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes just over 100 years ago and it is controversial now. Cheryl Angear, who knows far more about ballet than I ever will, tweeted that it was one of her least favourite works. It is an unconventional ballet but how can one not relish Bakst's designs, Debussy's score and Nijinsky's choreography. Anyway the audience on Thursday seemed to love it as much as I did. John Lam danced the Faun drawing cheers as he entered the stage with a deer like step almost becoming the creature. Ashley Ellis danced the Nymph exquisitely.
Elo's Plan to B was the only work which we saw on Thursday that had been choreographed specifically for the Boston Ballet and its only recent work. It was first performed in Boston on the 25 March 2011. No doubt because it is the company's very own work it was danced with particular exuberance. The score was by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber von Bibernwhich I had not heard before. The dancers were Button, Sylvia Deaton, Isaac Akiba, Jeffrey Cirio, Paul Craid and Bradley Schlagheck. They too drew thunderous applause.
The last work was another Balanchine but from the other end of his career nearly 40 years after Serenade, It was first performed on 18 June 1972 to a score by Stravinsky who had died just one year earlier. This was the work that showed what this remarkable company could do and just about everybody who had come to London was on the stage. The dancers who impressed me most were Lia Cirio and her brother Jeffrey (see Lia's YouTube interview). There were also strong performances by Misa Kuranaga, Rie Ichikawa, Lasha Khovashvili and Schlagcheck.
This is the company's first visit to London since 1981 and it was a very short season. I sincerely hope they do not leave it another 30 years and that they stay longer when they return. I hate to admit it as a proud northerner but there is something special about a London audience. I used to go to Covent Garden, the Coliseum and Festival Hall a lot when I was at law school and starting my career because those theatres rub shoulders with legal London. I got to know the regulars and, indeed, probably became one of them. Muriel from Muswell Hill and Ida from Ilford had seen everyone from Ninette de Valois to Rudolf Nureyev and analysed their performances in the minutest detail. When a London audience reacts as they did on Thursday you know you have seen something special.