|| The Times
|| July 5, 2013
|| Debra Craine
Brash, sexy - and back
Debra Craine welcomes the first visit by Boston Ballet in three decades
If you are going to introduce yourself to London - and after a 30-year absence that's precisely what the Boston Ballet had to do - there is no better way to do it than with George Balanchine. The opening programme of the company's Coliseum season presented a pair of masterworks by the Russian genius who did so much to foster ballet in the United States. Given how rarely we see Balanchine in the repertoire of British companies it's a treat to see American visitors perform his works.
Almost 40 years separate Serenade and Symphony in Three Movements, which represent the A to Z of his monumental creativity. Serenade (1934) made for Balanchine's first American students and set to Tchaikovsky, is wistfully romantic and
elusively dramatic, like a beautiful poem you can't quite pin down. A work essentially for the female corps de ballet (men are like an afterthought), it allows us to appreciate the Boston dancer's refinement, lyrical subtlety and feminine graces. Yet despite some appealing performances by Misa Kuranaga and Ashley Ellis, Serenade as a whole was a little too forced, as if the Bostonians believed the choreography needed some kind of artificial boost in order to sell it.
Symphony in Three Movements (1972) is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Here Balanchine defines 32 dancers as the ultimate athletic tribe possessed of a dynamic urban energy just waiting to be unleashed. Again the music is Russian (Stravinsky) but the mood is totally American, brash, confident, sex, sporty and ready to take on the world. Using complex structures, elegantly knotted couplings, jazzy posturing and an outpouring of emancipated power, it is a knockout - Balanchine's answer to West Side Story, Boston danced it well. It was well played too, courtesy of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Jonathan McPhee.
The oldest work in the programme, Nijinsky's Afternoon of a Faun (made for the Ballets Russes in 1912), sits oddly in the mix. Ghislaine Thesmar's French staging and Altan Dugaraa's intensely sensual performance as the randy titular creature heightened the works bestial eroticism. You could almost feel the sexual tension in Dugaraa's encounter with Lorna Feijóo's enticing Nymph, while the orgasmic ending - so at odds with Debussy's music - was transfixing.
The Finn Jorma Elo was appointed Resident Choreographer at Boston Ballet eight years ago, so it is not surprising to din one of his works on the bill. Plan to B (2004) is well-oiled, slick, hyperactive and impressively fast, and although not especially memorable its stretched and ripping choreography clearly appeals to the Boston ensemble, who delivered it with dazzling aplomb. Why though isn't the work on pointe?
Tonight comes programme two, which features a trio of living choreographers - William Forsythe, Christopher Wheeldon, and Jiří Kylián. Programme one is repeated in Staurday Night and Sunday Afternoon.