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Happily Ever After: Dances & Fairytales

'Happily Ever After:' Dances & Fairytales The Boston Ballet choreographed by Bruce Marks, Bruce Wells, Lucinda Hughey and Daniel Peking at the Wang Center take the T to Boyleston Student Rush Tickets $12 through October 29

By Marc R. Talusan

A premier ballet company gains distinction by adding to the established repertoire, either by reviving lost works, or defining new ones. Sadly, the season opener of the Boston Ballet testifies that the company can't keep pace with their ambitions.

Based on the stories of Hans Christian Andersen, 'Happily Ever After' fails to mingle originality with entertainment value. This season's premier bodes ill for what ought to be a first rate company.

The series opener is 'The Steadfast Tin Soldier,' in which the Tin Soldier (Viktor Plotnikov) pursues a Paper Ballerina (Larissa Ponomarenko) as a Jack-in-the-Box (Yuri Yanowski) tries to thwart their budding love by throwing the Tin Soldier out the window.

Ponomarenko and Plotnikov make a perfect couple, especially during their courting scene when Plotnikov insists on Ponomarenko's favor after repeated attempts to shoo him away.

But Yanowski is one of many weak links, lacking the animation to convincingly play counterpoint to Ponomarenko and Plotnikov's performances. He stiffly dances the Jack-in-the-Box, unable to match the manic energy the role requires. The corps of soldiers that accompany Plotnikov are equally unsatisfying, exhibiting the Boston Ballet's perennial lack of synchronization in group movements. At the end of a section, they are all supposed to kneel at the same time on the same beat, but are distractedly out of time with the music and with each other.

To top of the list of evils, Bruce Marks and Bruce Wells' choreography never manages to bring the toys to life.

'The Nightingale,' the second ballet in the series and a world-premiere, is the most conceptually interesting of the pieces. It is the only one that succeeds in transporting the audience to another world, magical and captivating. The title character (Adrianna Suarez) sings only for her Emperor (Paul Thrussell) and is forced to leave when he finds a Mechanical Nightingale (Pollyana Ribeiro) to replace her. But the new bird eventually breaks down, and the prince is broken-hearted and alone.

Suarez is perfectly cast as the exotic Nightingale, exuding a mysterious aura complemented by her technical prowess and distinctive style. As she goes on pointe while curving her back and spreading her arms, she need not sing to bring the vision of the Nightingale to life. Her solo moments are the high points of the ballet.

Playing the vague figure of Death, Robert Wallace is the most convincing antagonist of the three ballets. Along with dark figures running on stage called The Past (played by students of the Boston Ballet School), Wallace frightens and enchants at the same time. Ribeiro is delightful as the Mechanical Nightingale, with her precise movements. She is a cold, elegant wind-up doll, entertaining the Prince with the same repetitive moves until they are comical.

Although the overall concept and design are superb, Lucinda Hughey's choreography severely drags 'The Nightengale' down. Moments between Thrussell and Suarez let the piece lapse as the choreography merely bores the audience. No doubt, blame also belongs to Thrussell's performance, a real sleeper compared to Suarez's. Showing power or mystery as the Emperor, he has cold precision of a machine, a charm already claimed by the Mechanical Nightengale.

The final ballet, the world premiere of 'The Princess and the Pea,' has the same festive yet unremarkable quality of 'The Steadfast Tin Soldier'. It saved from absolute mediocrity only by a troop of adorable dancing mattresses and one hilarious performance.

The ballet laboriously tells of the Prince's (Viktor Plotnikov) search for a true Princess and his test of an unkempt but overly sensitive girl (Natasha Akhmanova) who feels a pea hidden under twenty matrresses.

The dancing mattresses, played by assorted Boston Ballet Artists, are the funniest part of the evening as they awkwardly shuffle around in their sleeping caps. One can only imagine how difficult it is to dance wearing a mattress but the sleepy bunch pull it off, milking every last comic moment of their costuming.

Not to be outdone is Akhmanova's Princess, whose delicacy is tested when she has to climb up twenty mattresses to get to sleep, and ends up tossing and turning half the night. Akhmanova approaches the role with vaudevillian flair, she is superbly comic yet always charming and graceful.

Aside from these inspired moments, Peking's choreography is unflattering dancers nothing to be energetic about. Plontikov is not well-defined enough to be memorable. The same goes for the rest of the characters.

Reagan Messer plays the Jester who informs the town of the Prince's search with a lot of gusto, but has no vivid choreography to back her up. Paul Thrussell as the Father, and Robin Ries as the Mother, also flail around randomly.

'Happily Ever After' may just be the perfect study break for the cynical student who wants to recede into the magic of fairy tales. But there's little that is original in this story-book. None of the pieces have the potential to captivate future audiences, let alone current ones.

Reagan Messer plays the Jester who informs the town of the Prince's search with a lot of gusto, but has no vivid choreography to back her up. Paul Thrussell as the Father, and Robin Ries as the Mother, also flail around randomly.

'Happily Ever After' may just be the perfect study break for the cynical student who wants to recede into the magic of fairy tales. But there's little that is original in this story-book. None of the pieces have the potential to captivate future audiences, let alone current ones.

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