A fruitful 30 years have passed since Boston Ballet’s last visit to London, in which time the American troupe has blossomed from a respectable regional shop into an internationally recognised tour de force. Their 2013 London tour, a dual-programmed mixed bill, unveils the full extent of the company’s maturation, marrying virtuosity and passion in an electrifying exultation of spirited magnetism and terpsichorean innovation.
Curated by artistic director Mikko Nissinen, Programme 1 treks a rich emotive landscape that opens and closes with neoclassical works by the celebrated George Balanchine. Serenade, his first American ballet, is languid and sensuous, the Tchaikovsky score lending a befittingly wistful and slightly haunting air. Like much of the prodigious choreographer’s repertoire, the piece is plotless, though a clear-cut story of longing and strength nonetheless emerges, cleanly propelled by the lyrical ambiance and striking unison of Boston Ballet’s 26-strong cohort. It was a true pleasure to witness the band of blue-clad ballerinas pirouette and bourée into a series of sophisticated tableaux, taking on a sylphlike quality in the ethereal sapphire light, gossamer skirts whisking as they glided through the azure. Meanwhile, the male principals impressed with strong lines and deft leaps, their counterparts in the corps heroically upholding a galvanising energy from the back lines. In an artful nod to Giselle, the female principals let down their hair towards the end, though the effect, like the lasting one of the overall piece, errs towards sensual rather than sinister.
The programme boomerangs to a rousing performance of Afternoon of a Faun, Vaslav Nijinsky’s legendary contribution to Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. The brief piece and its accompanying Debussy score alike are inspired by Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem of the same name, a fever dream depicting the titillating capers of a mischievous faun and the gaggle of nymphs he endeavours to swoon. With his virile swagger and effete facial expressions, soloist Altan Dugaraa gamely embodies the erotic undercurrent and campy motif that prompted controversy upon the ballet’s 1912 debut, prancing and stretching his flexed limbs in sensationally indulgent, faun-like form. The concomitant nymphs, led by the sprightly Lorna Feijóo, rebuke him with delightfully haughty indignation, charging across their woodland environs in acutely angular, 2-D poses reminiscent of Grecian urn illustrations.
Resident choreographer Jorma Elo’s electrifying 2004 work Plan to B is the undeniable highlight of Programme 1. The terpsichore is commanding and dynamic, impulsive-seeming in the way that only the most carefully orchestrated choreography permits, and the pulsating tempo is exploited to the fullest degree, each eight-count jam-packed with movement that both defies and effortlessly abides by the Biber score’s temporal restraints. The six-strong cast exhibited a uniformly vigorous approach, no individual outstripping his or her confrère in energy or strength; likewise, the men and women interacted in gratifyingly egalitarian fashion, neither group invoked as props or foils for the other, as is the industry norm.
Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements concludes the agenda, a heartening, spirited ensemble piece set to a jaunty Stravinsky score. With 32 dexterous dancers and a rapturous coda, the ballet charms easily; however, it pales ever so slightly in comparison to the others, if only for its outwardly athletic stance, a direct contrast to the delicate interiority embraced by each of its three predecessors. Still, there’s much to love about Symphony’s complex formations and fluid velocity.