writers on dancing


Boston Ballet at the Pillow

Who Cares? (concert version) /Lady of the Camellias: Act One Pas de Deux/Duo Concertant /Plan to B /Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes
Boston Ballet
Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival
Becket, MA
August 26, 2004

By Susan Reiter
copyright © 2004 by Susan Reiter
published August 30, 2004

Many intrepid and dedicated dance aficionados have kept up with Boston Ballet over the years by making sure to catch some of its performances at its home base, the Wang Center. Without such trips, one could not keep up with the accelerating pace of change of this company, particularly the developments since Mikko Nissinen took over as artistic director in 2001. Fortunately, the company is starting to venture outside of Boston, and appeared as the final attraction at Jacob's Pillow's Ted Shawn Theater. On October 1st, it will be seen, briefly, at City Center as one of the companies performing in the Fall for Dance Festival.

The Pillow program neatly encapsulated the company's 2003-04 season while also doing honors to George Balanchine as its contribution to his centennial. The concert version of his "Who Cares?" was the one work that was not from the past season's repertory. Staged by Richard Tanner, it stayed with the true original casting of one man and three women; at times this increasingly popular reduction has been performed with various couples. The costumes are versions of the 1970 Karinska originals, so the women are in various shades of pink (raspberry, peach, etc) and the man in slacks and a white shirt. For those of us who recall the ballet prior to its new production in the early 1980s, the sight of the mauve sash-style belt at the man's waist brings back a lot of memories. The women's costumes had a touch more glitter than was necessary, but the cut and style were right.

This Thursday performance featured the second cast, which included some against-type choices among the women, who were suavely partnered by Yury Yanowsky, Sacha Wakelin, the tallest woman of the three, performed the Patricia McBride role, which includes "The Man I Love" and the solo "Fascinatin' Rhythm." Appealing and supple, she seemed to enjoy herself immensely during "The Man I Love," and danced it cleanly, with elegant line, but seemed to have no sense of the air of mystery and aching romance this duet can conjure. Her solo was danced well enough, but again, where was the dizzy, go-for-broke excitement it can provide? The fact that Ms. Wakelin is not a particularly strong turner also diminished the final moments of the solo.

Tempe Ostergren was grievously miscast in "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise," which calls for a ballerina who can slice through space and dazzle with the power and speed of her legs. Of average height and with legs that could not meet the challenge of this choreography, Ms. Ostergen gave only a bare outline of what this solo is about. She was better in the "Who Cares" duet, but again, this was a pleasant display of dancing rather than an embodiment of Gershwin's tone of sophisticated romance.

The revelation of the cast was Pollyanna Ribeiro, a diminutive beauty whose stage projection and quiet allure put me in mind of Stephanie Saland. Her phasing is rich and expressive, her musical sense spontaneous and smart, and she turns like a dream. (Boston ballet seems to treat this as the ballet's lead role, since in the first cast it was performed by Lorna Feijoo, the troupe's leading ballerina.) Her performance of the challenging "My One and Only" solo is already wonderful; she gets all the rhythmic inflections and remembers to have fun with it. When she puts a bit more of a personal imprint on the role, it should be truly fantastic.

The program's other Balanchine offering was Sean Lavery's staging of "Duo Concertant," performed by Melanie Atkins and Sabi Varga. Theirs was a crisp, unmannered, musically aware interpretation, launched into action by the dynamic, spiky way they made their first duet into a delicious byplay with the musicians. They avoided the cuteness that has sometimes crept into this ballet recently, and smoothly navigated the transitions between reflectively listening to the musicians (violinist Michael Rosenbloom and pianist Freda Locker) and being propelled into action by the desire to extend and express what the music tells them.

Looking at Mark Morris' "Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes" as one who has very fond memories of its ABT performances, I felt exhilarated to see it again, although it seemed to puzzle the Pillow audience, particularly since it was offered as the closing work. It is such a bracing, intrepid, off-kilter ballet, but perhaps it is too subtle for a grand finale. On this occasion, since it featured the largest cast (12) of the evening, it made sense to program it last.

Pianist Virginia Eskin played the Virgil Thomson "Etudes for Piano" (gloriously) from just below the stage at stage left, since the Ted Shawn stage is far to small to accommodate the piano in the midst of the dancing, as was Mr. Morris' original intention, and she skipped the haunting opening piece that usually opens the work, before the dancers appear. They took a cautious approach to the opening section, in which they spring onto the stage with a cheerful sense of surprise and rush off an on with an insouciant air of inevitability. The performance got tighter and stronger as it went along, and the cast projected the all-important sense of true ensemble and friendly mutual respect that is built into the choreography. Romi Beppu brought warmth and joy to the role originated by Martine van Hamel, and Joel Prouty, in the role first performed by Baryshnikov, navigated its intricacies with charm and finesse.

The major calling card on the program was Jorma Elo's "Plan to B," choreographed for the company and had its premiere in March; it is the work they will bring to City Center. Set to a lush zinger of an early baroque score— selections from Biber's Sonata No. 81 in A Major and Sonatae a Violino Solo—it starts out looking like another edgy, alienated offering in the William Forsythe vein, with short, aggressive bursts of technically pushy dancing. But its initial air of cool soon melted into something warmer and more intriguing. The influence of Jiri Kylian was actually more prominent than that of Forsythe once the work, which features two women and four men, got going, but its aplomb and razor-sharp classical demands also hinted at a kinship with Wheeldon's "leotard" works. Perhaps it was the warmth and rhythmic vibrancy of the Biber, but it seemed that Mr. Elo's explorations revealed deeper possibilities and more intriguing ideas than the opening moments suggested. The dancers performed with blazing intensity that also made a strong case for the work.

Within such a bracing program, M.r Nissinen clearly felt obligated to include something a little more syrupy and predictable. Val Caniparoli's "Lady of the Camellias," a full-evening ballet choreographed in 1994, was added to the Boston Ballet repertory this past season, and its first-act pas de deux was performed on this occasion by Ms. Feijoo and Nelson Madrigal. They performed with fervor and finesse, but the duet came across as an accumulation of all-too-familiar clichés of impassioned, newly-in-love, rapturous couples, full of clinchés and swoopy lifts, all accompanied by a soupy Chopin score for piano and strings.

The company presented a very youthful face on this occasion, and certainly impressed with its male contingent. Hopefully, there is more touring in its near future, and audiences outside of Boston will have a chance to see its appealing dancers and evolving repertory.

Boston Ballet in Balanchine’s “Who Cares?” at Jacob’s Pillow. Dancers: Romi Beppu and Carlos Molina. Photo: Marta Fodor.
Boston Ballet in Val Caniparoli’s “Lady of the Camellias”. Dancers: Larissa Ponomarenko and Yury Yanowsky, photo: Marta Fodor.

Originally published:
Volume 2, No. 33
August 30, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Susan Reiter
Revised Septeber 1, 2004


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