A piece of Mr. Balanchine’s work is like a well made cocktail. It is tidy and precise. There are no extra distractions, but just enough of a twist and a shake here and there to make it the perfect experience. There isn’t too much sweetness nor too much bitterness; there is just a splash of each. Too many layers would over muddle the flavours and yet there is just enough going on to keep your attention until you reach the last sip. I was invited to see Boston Ballet’s most recent program: Classic Balanchine this week. After seeing opening night’s performance I can say that not only is it a worthy program because it is Balanchine, but it is worthy because Boston Ballet embraces the details and aesthetic that Balanchine lived and breathed. The night felt like meeting with Mr. B himself.
The Prodigal Son
Boston Ballet’s Classic Balanchine program is that perfect round of cocktails. The night begins with Balanchine’s The Prodigal Son. This feels like a period piece and I loved everything about it. It is a bit like discovering an old book of fables or mythology hidden in the back of your closet, or sitting on the shelf at your grandmother’s house. The kind that has a thick hard cover and the drawings inside are bold-stroked ink drawings filled in with water colours. The sets, borrowed from American Ballet Theatre in NYC were like those old illustrations. The choreography for The Prodigal Son was one that told a tale nothing was abstract or left to the imagination. There was humour, drama, seduction, regret and remorse. Lia Cirio was a fierce Siren, easily seducing not only The Prodigal Son but the entire audience. I have to say I wasn’t too surprised that the Prodigal Son fell for the Siren and then went crawling home. What did surprise me was Derek Dunn’s performance. Dunn is a precise dancer whose jumps seem effortless and reach heights that only a select few in the company can match. The combination of both athletic and artistic skill along with dramatic talent made Balanchine’s The Prodigal Son entertaining and memorable. I have so many moments vivid in my mind from the quirky entries of the “drinking companions” to dramatic lifts (and choreographed drops) performed by Cirio and Dunn.
Stravinsky Violin Concerto
I played the violin for about 14 years of my life, so I definitely have a soft spot for anything highlighting the violin, but really in Stravinsky Violin Concerto it is the dancing that highlights the music. When I think of Balanchine, Stravinsky Violin Concerto is exactly the type of choreography I think of. It is the type of choreography where the movements brings the music to life on stage. I loved the pairing of Kathleen Breen Combes and John Lam. They became the music and were playful and elegant partners. Maria Baranova was just as precise but perhaps a little less expressive in her dancing. Paul Craig and Maria Baranova were a wonderful counterpoint to Breen Combes and Lam however. Part of the reason Balanchine draws you into his pieces is the creativity of the dancing, the play on spacing, and partnering, the nods to folk dance and little twists on classic ballet. Balanchine plays with classical ballet throughout his works from the corps, to the lifts, to the soloists. Everything is new, but still elegant. It can be quirky but not awkward. That’s what I love about classic Balanchine.
So Jung Lee, Dawn Atkins, and Abigail Merlis in Boston Ballet in George Balanchine’s Chaconne © The George Balanchine Trust; photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet
Chaconne is so much fun to watch. The costumes are not quite as stripped down as in Stravinsky Violin Concerto, but still simple so as not to take away from the movement. It’s hard not to come alive watching the larger corps dances when the stage fills with uniform movement. I love how Balanchine plays with the bodies moving across the stage in groups. The dancers are ebbing and flowing in and out of each others’ lines.
Boston Ballet in George Balanchine’s Chaconne © The George Balanchine Trust; photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet
Opening night was the premiere of Chaconne by Boston Ballet and they killed it! It felt like something they had been dancing for years. This is no easy feat. Balanchine’s dancers were uniform in many ways. He chose his dancers for a certain look because that is what worked best for his vision. Balanchine liked tall dancers. The integrity of the choreography at some times depends on uniformity of height, legs and arms. Boston Ballet is anything but uniform. There are all heights and lengths of legs and torsos and yet the company was able to pull it off. A combination of pairing certain dancers together and no doubt a lot of nit-picky work, created the illusion of seamlessness in a very classic Balanchine way. It was fun to see Boston Ballet in this light, but I still think it is the diversity of dancers that really makes Boston Ballet special.
All performances of Classic Balanchine take place at the Boston Opera House (539 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111)
Remaining performance are:
- Sunday, May 20 at 1:30 pm
- Saturday, May 26 at 7:30 pm
- Sunday, May 27 at 1:30 pm
- Thursday, May 31 at 7:30 pm
- Friday, June 8 at 7:30 pm
- Saturday, June 9 at 1:30 pm
*Indicates post-show talk
Tickets start at $35. For more information, visit bostonballet.org or call 617.695.6955