Sunday, September 22, 2013

Better than perfect

Boston Ballet’s public ‘Night of Stars’ on Boston Common was a triumph. It wasn’t the perfect concert experience, but it was an amazing gift to the city. 

Apparently, somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 crowded in to get a glimpse of the company and help celebrate its 50th anniversary season. I arrived at 4:45 pm, and it was already too late to snag space down by the stage. My friends and I decided to sit back a ways, up on the hill, in the hopes of getting a good perspective on the stage. It was fairly effective - we could see the stage for most of the time (when silly tourists weren’t walking in front of us), and we had a good look at the screens. 

The gala got off to a stunning start with Misa Kuranaga and Jeffrey Cirio’s Don Quixote Pas de Deux. They had great personality, and I have to imagine they were aware of the limitations of a public concert because the gestures they used were somewhat exaggerated to hit the eyeballs of those of us sitting back on the fields (imho knowing your venue is one of the things that makes great dancing - so kudos to them). Kuranaga’s fuettés in the coda were stunning - worth the trip alone. 

After that, the first half took a dip in quality. Christopher Bruce’s Rooster is overly slick and soulless, depicting self-important businessmen trying to woo sexed-up ballerinas in feather boas. Only upside - the Rolling Stones score, which is all the more fun blasted out on speakers over the common. This was followed by the golden idol variation from La Bayadere. While Avetik Karapetyan performed the part admirably, the production didn’t make me very hopeful for the full-length version going up in October. Forcing children to perform exoticist roles? Not cool, Boston Ballet, not cool. Please prove me wrong by having SOME sense of how your performances impact your audiences, particularly your young audiences, come October 24th. 

Viktor Plotnikov’s new version of Saint-Saëns’s Swan came next, performed by Lorna Feijóo and Yuri Yanowsky. This was the one time in the evening when I really wished I was closer to the stage; there were some interesting ideas in the work (particularly some innovative partnering technique) but without seeing the whole thing up close, I really can’t evaluate it as a work. I realize there aren’t a lot of opportunities to perform a 5-minute piece for the public, but this was the wrong venue. 

Boston Ballet Symphony in Three Movements

The final three works on the program were powerhouses. Boston Ballet is so good at Balanchine choreography, and Symphony in Three Movements has lately, quite rightly, become one of the company’s calling cards. Lia Cirio and Lasha Khozashvili were chill-inducing in the middle movement pas de deux, and the ballet’s heart-pumping athleticism was perfect way to end the first half. Jorma Elo’s Plan to B was a delightful surprise - kinetic, musical, varied. And it made Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber - Belibers out of the entire audience. 

After two pieces of kinetic storm, Serenade ended the evening on a poetic, haunting note. The wind on the open-air stage blew the ballerina’s skirts around considerably, which must have made dancing more difficult, but was very touching from the audience perspective. Seeing the ballet from such a distance actually made me realize what a beautiful economy of gesture Balanchine uses in the piece. Excellently musical performances from the lead dancers made this the highlight of the evening.

From as far back as I was sitting (which was still closer in than a lot of people), it was impossible to see the details that make really great ballet performances great. I couldn’t tell any of the dancers apart from each other with enough certainty to review them here. Bourréeing? Totally lost at that distance. Eye contact or even facial expression? Also gone. More surprisingly, it’s hard to get a sense of the stage’s depth that far away, so some of the architectural aspects of the Balanchine pieces were lost.

But the crowd was so exciting! It was a wonderful communal experience, the like of which I’ve never taken part in. The relaxed atmosphere and the free ticket price drew in lots of newbies as well as experienced balletomanes. It allowed for more discussion and movement during and around the performances. And for the company to give this gift to us for free made me feel so profoundly grateful.

During intermission, one little girl darted through the picnic blankets, trying to duplicate the jumps from Symphony in Three Movements. That’s not perfection - that’s something much better. 

Boston Ballet, Night of Stars, September 21, 2013

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