On June 27th 2014 at the Koch Theatre in Lincoln Center during The Boston Ballet’s first ever engagement in New York City, the company proved to be better than the New York City Ballet at dancing Balanchine. I know I’m not alone in holding that opinion because I overheard several people seated near me express the same sentiment during the enthusiastic applause for Symphony in Three Movements. The principals and soloists were superb, but the corps de ballet was the true star of the show. In particular, the follow-up movements that flowed flawlessly down a long diagonal line of dancers were mesmerizing. Mr. B, who helped bestow the Ford Foundation funding that allowed E. Virginia Williams to found the company in 1963, would surely have been proud.
The second ballet of the evening, Vaslav Nijinsky's Afternoon of a Faun to the music of Debussy, proved to be a faithful restoration of the 1912 work. The erotic subtext of the faun cavorting with nymphs scandalized some critics in Paris when the Ballet Russes premiered the work. However, other reviewers praised the innovative choreography that makes the dancers look as though they figures on a Greek vase in bas relief. For audience members accustomed to seeing the Jerome Robbins version of Afternoon of a Faun, which features a ballerina and a male dancer who encounter each other in a ballet studio, this important piece of dance history must have been a revelation. As I’ve often said before, dance is a living art form that can only be preserved if each generation of dancers learns to perform both past and present styles. I appreciate the fact that Boston Ballet’s Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen shares this view.
Plan to B, by Boston Ballet’s Resident Choreographer Jorma Elo, brought us back to this century with a work that publicity notes say reflects “Elo’s personal experiences with career transitions – moving from professional dancer to choreographer and the anxiety it brings”. Set to the stirring music of Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, the movements require lighting speed and ebullient spontaneity that were amply supplied by the dancers.
When I read the program before the performance began, I reflected on the fact that Jiří Kylián's Bella Figura was perhaps an unfortunate choice for a closer. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The other dancegoers and I didn’t need the usual rousing pap that rounds out many an evening at the ballet. Kylián's profoundly emotional and arrestingly beautiful creation held us all in its spell from start to finish. Some of you may have seen the Boston Ballet posters around town with the image of a topless ballerina in a red skirt discreetly shielding her torso with her arms. During the performance, the women danced with unabashed full frontal torso nudity and the effect was not in the least offensive or salacious. Rather, it was reminiscent of indigenous dance traditions in cultures such as Swaziland in South Africa.
My hope is that the Boston Ballet, now a major international force in the world of dance, will come back to NYC time and again and that the company will always bring its own superb orchestra as it did for the first visit.If that happens, don’t miss the chance to see this remarkable troupe in action!
This review originally appeared on BroadwayWorld.com.