During a time when many ballet companies are struggling to stay afloat, Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen is not only preserving the Boston Ballet, but pushing the company to new heights. His innovative efforts were clear last Saturday evening at the Boston Opera House in the Boston Ballet’s annual one-night-only season opener, “Night of Stars.” Through a masterful interplay between the neoclassical works of George Balanchine and those of his contemporary successors, “Night of Stars” evoked ambition. Boston Ballet’s potential seems limitless as it enters its 47th season.
One of Nissinen’ s aims for “Night of Stars” was to feature previews of Boston Ballet’s upcoming repertoire. The evening opened with “The Kingdom of Shades,” an excerpt from the third act of the full-length classical ballet “La Bayadère,” an exotic and tragic love story set in India. Under the baton of Jonathan McPhee, the Boston Ballet Orchestra played the haunting opening melody as 24 women appeared one by one on the stage in a breathtaking line of white tutus, all balancing together on one leg. A notoriously difficult piece for the corps de ballet (the core group of dancers of the company), the women performed with grace—an exciting preview of the full-length classical ballet which will premiere in two weeks.
The limelight shone on the newly promoted principal and soloist dancers of the Boston Ballet as “Night of Stars” moved from the classical tradition of “La Bayadère” to the works of George Balanchine, the father of American neoclassical ballet. Second soloists Whitney Jensen and Jeffrey Cirio performed the first Balanchine work. Originally premiered in 1964 for two of Balanchine’s own stars, Patricia McBride and Edward Villella, “Tarantella” is a ballet that requires verve and panache. With ringing tambourines and flying ribbons, Jensen and Cirio evoked the vivacity and articulation of “Tarantella’s” originators with their playful energy.
“Night of Stars” also featured two works that paid homage to the brilliant artistic partnership between Balanchine and his neoclassical contemporary, composer Igor Stravinsky. “Scherzo à la Russe,” a lively stylized portrayal of Russian character dance (folk or national dance), featured students from Boston Ballet School who displayed impressive training and enthusiasm.
It has been argued that Stravinsky’s music can only be truly understood through Balanchine’s choreography: this is certainly the case for “Apollo,” the first of Balanchine and Stravinsky’s nearly fifty-year artistic collaboration, and the third Balanchine work featured Saturday evening. Evoking the myth of Apollo and Terpsichore, his muse of dance, Kathleen Breen Combes and Pavel Gurevich brought this 1928 ballet to life with exquisite lines and daring syncopation. With their hands flexed and hips jutted, just as those of the dancers who premiered this work over 80 years ago, Combes and Gurevich showed that “Apollo” was a work before its time.
It was fitting to include Balanchine’s “Apollo” in “Night of Stars,” as this innovative piece laid the groundwork for the choreographers of the evening’ s three contemporary works. Though different in their styles of movement, the trio complemented one another in costume and lighting, together exhibiting Boston Ballet’s contemporary flair. “Layli O Majnun,” choreographed by Helen Pickett, is a preview of her Boston Ballet premiere, “PART I, II, III.” Her duet was followed by an excerpt from “Plan to B,” choreographed by Boston Ballet’s resident choreographer Jorma Elo. Critically acclaimed during Boston Ballet’s 2010 tour of Spain, “Plan to B” was a striking display of movement, as the six performers danced in articulated synchrony to the jarring chords of a harpsichord. The momentum of the evening’s contemporary works culminated in Li 3, a trio choreographed by principal dancer Yury Yanowsky. Rie Ichikawa, John Lam, and Jaime Diaz electrified the stage with raw athleticism, their seamless interplay one of the evening’ s highlights.
A classical complement to the powerful energy of Li 3, the “Le Corsaire” pas de deux—a dance of love between a princess and her slave—was the true gem of the evening. Adiarys Almeida and Joseph Gatti, two new Company soloists, were dazzling in their technical prowess and in their dual chemistry. With Almeida’s flawless pirouettes and Gatti’s powerful jumps, they performed the Corsaire pas de deux with unparalleled virtuosity. However, their performance was noteworthy for more than their technique: it was Almeida’s mysterious allure as princess and Gatti’s bravado as slave that most deeply resonated.
“Night of Stars” also featured two guest artists in a specially added pas de deux, “After the Rain,” by Christopher Wheeldon. Renowned dancers Wendy Whelan, of the New York City Ballet, and Damian Smith, of the San Francisco Ballet, performed this piece with a delicacy and attention to movement that was profound. Ending “Night of Stars” on a traditional note, Nissinen featured two new principals, Lia Cirio and Lasha Khozashvili, in the classic Don Quixote pas de deux alongside Boston Ballet’s famous couple, Erica Cornejo and Nelson Madigral. Their tasteful performance, although perhaps lower in energy than that of other pieces, was lovely nonetheless, and led nicely into the evening’s finale with one of Balanchine’s most classical Russian works, “Theme and Variations.” As Misa Kuranaga and James Whiteside led another 24 dancers in a climactic coda to close the show, it was clear that “Night of Stars” showcased Boston Ballet’s versatility: the company’s ability to embrace up-and-coming choreographers without forgetting its classical foundation.
—Staff writer Alyssa A. Botelho can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.