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Boston Ballet in "Three Masterpieces"

by Theodore Bale
May 15, 2008
Citi Performing Arts Center - Wang Theatre
270 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02116-5692
617-482-9393
Performed May 15-18, 2008
The context of Boston Ballet's most recent program, "Three Masterpieces," is kaleidoscopic. Watching Balanchine's beloved "Concerto Barocco" next to Antony Tudor's "Dark Elegies" and Twlya Tharp's epic "In the Upper Room" allows a continual shift from one set of relations to another. Depending on your mood that night, or even from one minute to the next, these could feel like dances about personal and interpersonal relationships between groups of men and women, or grand musical ideas intersecting with rarified choreography, or what might happen when a more explicit narrative is transformed into an abstraction. They are without doubt deeply sophisticated works; dances that enlighten and entertain the viewer. Repertory programs often suffer from a lack of attention to context. Three "happy" dances can make the evening on the whole feel empty. Three "sad" ones could make that first date pretty depressing. These "Three Masterpieces" began with exuberance, continued with introspection and grief, and finished with nearly maddening energy, a perfect blend to finish Boston Ballet's current season.

Certainly Margaret Tracey had a challenge staging "Concerto Barocco" for Boston Ballet, since it hasn't been in the company's repertory for two decades. She did the best she could have with the women, though lately there has been a haphazard quality in Boston Ballet's corps de ballets that appears to emerge not from a lack of training or strength, but simply from too few rehearsals. Musically, it is daunting choreography to perform, with plenty of accented movements and phrases beginning on downbeats. It must be extraordinarily sharp or Balanchine's visual counterpoint to J.S. Bach's music loses its punch. On opening night the solo roles of the "Two Violins" were danced by Melissa Hough and Romi Beppu, and the two offered different yet musical approaches to the role. Hough's was far more sweeping, more emotionally distant (which created intrigue), and demonstrated an elegant continuity. One entrance in a grand jete, which began off-stage, created a stunning illusion of flight. Beppu preferred to sink into many of the poses and leave them only until the last possible moment, which created a certain theatrical tension. If only she hadn't smiled so much, in a manner that suggested dead-on "playing" to the audience. It recalled those plastic doll ballerinas inside a young girl's first wind-up jewelry box. A sturdy Roman Rykine, who had to partner four women at once, persevere through many series of crazy lifts, carry one ballerina while she's balanced on his hip bone and then set her down straight on pointe, didn't seem the least bit phased by all that hand-holding and intricate twisting around. His neutral stance in "Swan Lake" in the weeks prior served "Concerto Barocco" perfectly. Perhaps he is truly a neo-classical dancer trapped in a cavalier's body?

I've always thought of Antony Tudor's 1937 "Dark Elegies," set to Mahler's expressive "Kindertotenlieder," to be one of the most supreme folkdances. It was made long before other ballet choreographers began obscuring the hierarchy of the ballet ensemble, Nijinsky and Fokine notwithstanding. Donald Mahler' staging for Boston Ballet let the efficiency of expression in Tudor's style shine through. I was fascinated with some of the simplest devices, for example, the moments when the men jump while looking down, or when the feeling of compassion arises so clearly as the men and women form their first circle. We haven't seen much of Tudor's work at Boston Ballet, and the style is particularly engaging when interpreted by such accomplished dancers as Larissa Ponomarenko and Jared Redick.

Twyla Tharp's "In the Upper Room" with Norma Kamali's slinky red, black and white costumes, Jennifer Tipton's smoky lighting design, and Philip Glass's magnetizing score, is an astonishing exercise in binary form. The "Stompers" in their Reeboks meet the "Ballet Dancers" (among them on opening night, Misa Kuranaga and Rie Ichikawa wearing pointe shoes by Freed of London) for a kind of friendly face-off. What starts as impressive athleticism transforms over forty minutes into exultation. As many times as I've seen the dance as performed by different ballet companies, I still can't quite determine how a secular work can be so spiritual. But much of it comes from Tharp's visual manipulation of Glass' patterns. Glass spent a lot of time in India, where music is often perceived as a force that opens one's mind to divine influence. Tharp's expansive choreography does the same thing, without ever having to resort to dogmatic arguments about God.
Rie Ichikawa, Misa Kuranaga in 'In the Upper Room'

Rie Ichikawa, Misa Kuranaga in "In the Upper Room"

Photo © & courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor


Boston Ballet in Concerto Barocco

Boston Ballet in Concerto Barocco

Photo © & courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor

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