Arts ballet review

Dancing under the stars

A free outdoor performance by the Boston Ballet Company

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Misa Kuranaga holds a pose during her performance as the female half of Marius Peptia’s “Don Quixote Pas de deux.”
Greg Steinbrecher—The Tech
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Dancers perform an excerpt from Christopher Bruce’s “Rooster,” which is set to the Rolling Stones songs “Paint it Black,” “Play With Fire,” and “Sympathy for the Devil.”
Greg Steinbrecher—The Tech
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Painted entirely gold for his performance, Avetik Karapetyan performs Florence Clerc’s Golden Idol variation of Marius Pepita’s La Bayadère. Boston Ballet school students filled the supporting roles.
Greg Steinbrecher—The Tech
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Lorna Feijóo and Yury Yanowsky perform the world premiere of Viktor Plotnikov’s “Swan.”
Greg Steinbrecher—The Tech

Night of Stars

Boston Ballet Company

Boston Common

Saturday Sept. 21, 2013, 7 p.m.

The Boston Ballet opened its 50th season before an estimated audience of over 45,000 ballet aficionados, performing the dazzling Night of Stars in Boston Common last Saturday. The free one-night performance featured excerpts from Boston Ballet’s entire repertory of classical, neo-classical and contemporary ballets. Multiple giant screens, a velvety state-of-the-art sound system and the gigantic stage, which at times dwarved soloist and pas de deux performances, made for an enchanting evening of highbrow artistry.

The show opener was the classical Don Quixote pas de deux, featuring the romantic qualities of the principal dancers Misa Kuranaga and Jeffrey Cirio. While the cumbersome distances from the outdoor stage made it difficult for most in the audience to appreciate all the nuances and delicacies of Kuranaga’s exquisite movements, her performance remained stunning from all distances and angle.

Rooster, from Boston Ballet’s stunning contemporary repertoire, is set to the music of the Rolling Stones and the choreography of Christopher Bruce, but it’s not just your parents’ ballet. In it, the dancers swayed in vibrantly colored street clothes against the stark, larger-than-life set. As the Stones crooned “Paint It Black,” four dancers donning stunning black and blood red outfits, drenched in hellish soft red lighting, displayed how fluidly ballet dancers can move and contort their bodies while remaining loose. Next, the Stones’ “Play With Fire” set the mood for a duet more reminiscent of an edgy flamenco than a classical ballet, the crowds’ favorite of the three pieces. The last excerpt, set to “Sympathy for The Devil,” featured vibrant, buttery, samba-esque figures, coloring the movements in time that reflected the deep rhythms of the Rolling Stone’s ode to the Satan. Stylistically it was carnival crashing into post modernism.

La Bayadère whisked us into the exotica of Regal India, where the drama of the unrequited love of the High Brahmin for Nikiya, the lead temple dancer (in French, la bayadère), and her devotion to Solor the gallant warrior, unfolds in glittery costumes and motifs worthy of a Raj. The excerpt chosen, “Golden Idol Variation,” is a dream piece for any male dancer to perform. It is a tour-de-force of male dancing with anti-gravity jumps and powerful, speedy, skillful movements. Avetik Karapetyan, the Armenian soloist, rose to the occasion. His stunning physique shimmered in gold, and was so well defined that the contours of his chiseled muscularity often revealed the physicality of his performance. Needless to say, however, I and most ballet aficionados would have preferred to see the legendary white act, “Kingdom of the Shades,” instead of the opium induced dream state of Solor’s mind.

The highlight of the night was the world premiere of Swan, choreographed by Viktor Plotnikov with the accompanying score of Camille Saint-Saens and performed by principal dancers Lorna Feijoo and Yury Yanowsky. Their pas de deux — performed in the cool, dark sparsity of a film noir-esque ambiance and minimalist set decor — was haunting, tragic, and foreboding. There was nothing to distract from their lush, posh and melancholic romanticism — neither Yanowsky’s superlative topless prancing, nor Feijoo’s seemingly endless beautiful leggy pointe. The ultimate goal of dancers should be to conceal their technique, not to display it prominently. After all, ballet is a performing art, not a science; the whole must not only be bigger than it is parts, but, more crucially, it must not be reducible to its parts.

No medley of an American ballet company’s performance is ever complete without Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements. Not everyone’s favorite piece, and often dismissed as too showy and toothy by the purist, it nevertheless has a charm all of its own. It is to American ballet what Grease is to Broadway musicals — an all-American display of cheery exuberance with enough topologically twisted formations and routines to impress any geometer. The finale is a 3D matrix formation, seemingly emerging from the randomness of dancers frolicking around. This is a feast for the eyes, but at the same time not brain candy. There is too much of everything, and yet one feels unresolved at the end!

Plan To B, by the resident choreographer Jorma Elo, would perhaps more aptly be called “Plan B.” I doubt it was anyone’s favorite, but nonetheless it has high energy and is full of accelerations and decelerations that take your breath away, if not out of excitement, then out of sympathy for the dancers, whose stamina seems to be tested. Ironically, the glitterati seated in the VIP caged area seemed most impressed with Plan To B. It must be highbrow.

Another one of Balanchine’s masterpieces, Serenade, capped the evening. Sixteen maids-in-waiting, dressed in lightly translucent draping skirts which highlighted their long-legged silhouettes, danced to the upbeat tempo of Tchaikovsky’s refreshingly modern Viennese-waltz-like score. The solo performance and the ensuing pas de deux, headed by Prince Charming prancing onto the stage, was dazzling and exciting. Next, the full ensemble was back on stage and draped in a steely blue shade of lighting, rendering them elegant and polished.

Mass performances are never easy to organize, nor are they cheap; they oftentimes have a circus-like air about them, but that did not hold last Saturday night. Mikko Nissinen, Boston Ballet’s Artistic Director, must be proud since the starry night performance went silkily smoothly. In fact, the whole night was a success, and should have bolstered Bostonians’ sense of ownership and pride in their hometown ballet company.

Boston Ballet’s 2013–2014 season will feature La Bayadère, Balanchine’s Jewels, and the ever popular The Nutcracker, Cinderella, and Pricked.