|| The Patriot Ledger
|| May 14, 2011
|| Iris Fanger
A bare-chested youth lies asleep on the floor of the ballet studio. As he wakes and stretches, a young woman enters, sees herself in the mirror, and begins a series of exercises, all the time watching herself and the movements of her body. The mirror is placed in front of them, hovering over the heads of the audience. Entranced, we watch the two dancers discover each other in their reflected images, almost unaware of their sexual attraction.
Welcome to the 20th-century Jerome Robbins’ masterpiece, “Afternoon of a Faun,” centering the Balanchine/Robbins program that ends the Boston Ballet’s 2010-11 season. The Robbins work directly follows the majestic “Divertimento No. 15,” choreographed by George Balanchine in 1956 to music by Mozart. It’s a large-cast ballet for women in gold-colored tutus and men dressed in tights, perfectly mannered as if they had just come offstage after performing for the tsar. The program also includes Robbins’ “Antique Epitaphs,” for eight women who might be priestesses of some ancient temple on an island off Greece, and Balanchine’s smashing, up-to-the-minute modern work, “Symphony in Three Movements,” created to be propelled by Igor Stravinsky’s pounding score. While “Divertimento” is an homage to Balanchine’s youth in pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg, “Symphony in Three Movements” relates to the choreographer’s embrace of his new home in America, with its hard-driving, syncopated rhythms and asymmetrical stage patterns.
This is a program for ballet lovers and newcomers alike, not only to satisfy a picky balletomane but to instruct others in the ways that music and dance intertwine. Balanchine, of course, was a master of music, capturing the flavor and rhythms so totally that they embody his famous statement “to see the music and hear the dance.”
Robbins chose music by Claude Debussy for his two ballets – so different from the Robbins of “West Side Story.” The first is an homage to the original “Afternoon of a Faun,” choreographed and performed by Vaslav Nijinsky in 1912. The memory of him in this work has become an undying 20th-century legend, to which Robbins alludes in subtle touches. At the final moment, the young man arches his body up from the floor and opens his mouth in a silent scream.
Performing the works of Balanchine and Robbins also helps educate the dancers, so much so that the ballets should be scheduled more often. Happily the Boston Ballet dancers are up to the challenge so the real story about this combination of choreography is not only how well the company lived up to expectations, but how beautifully the orchestra performed the scores to accompany them. The evening was definitely a marriage of music and dance. The stunned audience erupted in cheers and more than one standing ovation at Thursday’s opening night.
Braintree resident Sabi Varga portrayed the young man of “Afternoon of a Faun,” as much enthralled by his muscular image in the mirror as the sight of the girl, Teenager Whitney Jensen embodies youth and promise as his partner; she has in a variety of roles this season.
Other company dancers stood out in the Balanchine works, especially James Whiteside for the way the off-kilter moves invented by Balanchine rolled through his long, stretched-out body perfectly on the music, and Lorna Feijoo, in “Divertimento No. 15.” And that’s not to ignore the performances by Lia Cirio, Erica Cornejo, Joseph Gatti, Tiffany Hedman, Rie Ichikawa, Misa Kuranaga, and John Lam in the Balanchine works. The corps de ballet was equally impressive, particularly in the thrusting, parade-unison line-ups of “Symphony in Three Movements” that finally exploded them across the stage.