|| The Observer
|| July 6, 2013
|| Luke Jennings
The Boston Ballet have not visited London for 30 years, and a palpable excitement preceded the company's arrival last week. The company was founded in 1964, with the choreographer George Balanchine as its artistic adviser, and two major Balanchine works were danced in last Wednesday's first-night programme. Serenade, the loveliest and dreamiest of American ballets, is a fine curtain-raiser, and its opening tableau of intersecting lines of women, moonlit and blue-skirted, won immediate applause. Boston's corps de ballet dancers are tall and willowy, with an airy carriage of the upper body and a touching anxiety to please. Likability is important in an ensemble, and the dancers' unforced sincerity makes it easy to forgive their occasionally blurred footwork.
Serenade (1934) was the first dancework that Balanchine created in the United States. It's danced to Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings, and if its plotless convolutions are shot through with melancholy, they also retain a powerful sense of hope. There are fine performances by the soloists - I loved Ashley Ellis's sad gaze, and was struck by Bradley Schlagheck's elegant stage manners - but Serenade, for me, is about the corps. Those lines of young women with raised faces and far-focused eyes, and the unanimity with which they immerse themselves in the music's whirl, speak of belief. In ballet, in the future, in America, in themselves. They believe, so we believe.
Afternoon of a Faun, originally choreographed in 1912 by Vaslav Nijinsky, is rather less credible. To work, the piece must be performed with absolute intensity and precision, and Altan Dugaraa's Faun is too lightweight. There's no tension or mystery here, just a shallow narcissism which at times edges into camp. Jorma Elo's Plan to B (2004) returns us to the 21st century. A high-octane display piece set to music by the 17th-century composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, it invites six dancers, four of them male, to cut loose and show off a variety of high-speed tricks. Although depthless, it serves as a welcome palate-cleanser after the over-sauced Faun, and leads us into Balanchine's Symphony in Three Movements.
Created in 1972, and opening with a shimmering diagonal of 16 women in white leotards, this is the perfect counterbalance to Serenade. Here, all is dazzle. The women are Broadway sirens or sun-kissed beach belles, and as they strut and sashay, ponytails swinging, Stravinsky's sexy, complex score races alongside. The central andante is an orientally inflected duet for Kathleen Breen Combes, all luxuriant arabesques and trim glamour, and the courteous, capable Paulo Arrais. When the pair bow out, the ensemble returns for a power-finish. And if, once again, the footwork could be sharper, the Boston dancers' enthusiasm is unstinting. It would be good to see more of them.