|| Boston Herald
|| October 25, 2010
|| Keith Powers
What happened to the old-fashioned variety show? The television and touring staple of decades ago has largely disappeared, but Boston Ballet’s artistic director Mikko Nissinen knows it still has appeal - and not just on the oldies circuit.
Nissinen’s troupe opened its season Saturday evening at the Opera House with “Night of Stars,” a smorgasbord tour de force of upcoming dances, visiting artists and “only the best bits” programming from the company’s repertory. With a sold-out show and a vocally enthusiastic audience showing the love, it’s clear that Nissinen’s idea for kicking off the season has a lot of merit.
And we’re not talking about “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” or a random “Grand Pas” here, either. The company ranged widely through its body of work, with several new pieces, a healthy dose of Balanchine, a visually stunning snippet from the upcoming “Bayadere” - all aimed at showing us that Boston’s biggest ballet troupe is dancing well and creatively stimulated.
Staging and lights were simple - naturally, with almost a dozen changes to be made. The orchestra, ably conducted by Jonathan McPhee, was curiously amplified - indeed, over-amplified - for some pieces. But there was something onstage for everyone.
Guest stars Wendy Whelan and Damian Smith, principals in New York and San Francisco, respectively, had perhaps the most interesting work to interpret: Christopher Wheeldon’s weightless “After the Rain,” which showed that the creative possibilities inherent in the pas de deux are far from exhausted. And Pavel Gurevich and Kathleen Breen Combes, a physical match made in dance heaven (he: regal, sturdy and cerebral; she: elegantly proportioned, effortlessly artistic), relived the grand tradition of couples onstage with a snippet of Balanchine’s “Apollo.”
Contemporary works weren’t shortchanged: Principal Yuri Yanowsky’s dramatic and athletic “Li3” impressed, and newer works by Helen Pickett and Jorma Elo maintained Nissinen’s connection to those choreographers.
You wouldn’t want every dance evening to be like this, but for one night, a little bit of everything was just right.