I’m a bit tardy on this review, but had to write it up!
Boston Ballet is kicking off their 50th anniversary season and they chose to do so by giving the gift of ballet to the city. That is, they set up a stage on the Boston Common (which, if you’ve never been to Boston, is a big park-like thing in the middle of the city) and chose an incredible program spanning the gamut from classical story ballets to Balanchine to contemporary and presented it for FREE to anyone willing to come out and watch.
The estimated attendance I saw was around 55,000. And I was one of them!
The show was slated to start at 7pm. BB sent out an e-mail the day before suggesting people arrive between 4 and 5:30 to get good seats. So… my friends and I got there at 3. And we were far from the first to arrive. But we were among the first, so we scored an awesome piece of lawn facing the right side of the stage. We didn’t bring chairs since we weren’t expecting they’d be allowed. Turns out they were. Drat. But even on blankets the view was great.
It was a glorious late summer day, temps in the upper 70s, only supposed to drop to the mid-60s at night. So we spread out our blankets and basked in the sun. At 4pm they opened the information booth and started playing videos on the screens they had set up. The first 50 people to the info booth got a free Night of Stars t-shirt… and yes, I got one! Very exciting. The videos turned out to mostly be stuff that I had already seen on their web-site: profiles of dancers, info about the school, etc. But at least it gave something for the early-comers to watch.
At around 6:30 I decided to stretch my legs and went for a quick walk (which was not so much walking as it was attempting not to step on the sea of humanity, dogs, and blankets surrounding me) and realized exactly how many people had come out to watch ballet. It was truly spectacular. It seemed like every square inch of the Common was covered.
By the time we made our way back to our blankets the curtain was nearly set to rise. Except… well, there was no curtain. There were no real wings, even. There was, however, a pair of dancers rehearsing on-stage. Those two were a certain Jeffrey Cirio (SWOON!!!) and Misa Kuranaga practicing their Don Q pas de deux, complete with legwarmers over their costumes. They were out there as they probably would do before any other show, unabashedly going through certain parts of the dance, except we could see them (the lights weren’t up and the cameras weren’t on them, but for those of us in the front it was all there for the viewing). This alone was enough to make my evening. It was this glimpse into their non-performing world.
As 7pm neared twilight was beginning to creep over the Common. A slightly-more-than-light breeze blew up. It was all terribly romantic. The screens switched over from the videos that had been running over the past few hours to an introduction and thank-you from various BB big-wigs. Then the orchestra tuned up (yes, the entire BB orchestra was there, too!). And then… the show.
As you might have guessed, it opened with the Don Quixote pas de deux featuring Mr. Cirio and Ms. Kuranaga. I saw them paired up in Coppelia and they are such a good match. Their dancing complements each other exquisitely. And, in case I haven’t mentioned it previously… I heart Jeffrey Cirio. His dancing is simply divine. Swoon. And… swoon again.
Ahem, where was I?
Oh yes. Don Q. Pas de deux. Both dancers are just marvelous. You’d never know they were performing out of their element. Fan-frickin-tastic!
Next up were excerpts from Christopher Bruce’s “Rooster.” I had seen the full “Rooster” in last year’s fall program and loved it. It’s set to Rolling Stones music and the dancing has kind of a jazz/modern feel to it, so I feel like it’s a great intro to BB for people who may not think that they like ballet. For this show they performed “Paint it Black,” “Play with Fire,” and “Sympathy for the Devil.” Great music. Great dancing.
After that was a preview of the next show coming up: the Golden Idol variation from La Bayadere. This one featured a few children from BBS. Now, let me tell you one thing I learned from this piece. You know how pink tights highlight muscle line (cellulite, too, but let’s not discuss that!). Well, turns out gold paint does the same thing. I suppose it goes without saying, then, that it made this piece rather appealing to the eye. The dancing… well, I know it’s a super-hard variation, in part because it is about twice as long as most men’s variations in classical ballet. It was good… not quite great, but… certainly good. And… gold paint, yum.
Next up was the mystery performance of the evening… the world premiere of “Swan” which was choreographed by Viktor Plotnikov. It was a pas de deux between Lorna Feijoo and Yury Yanowsky. They danced exquisitely, but the piece itself left me a bit underwhelmed. I think I was just expecting something a bit bigger and brighter and was kind of disappointed to find out that the world premiere was something not what I built it up to be in my mind. I should probably see it again in a different context to better judge its merits.
And then, to end the first half, was Balanchine’s “Symphony in Three Movements.” It features a huge cast and I think because of that, there were some amazing parts and some that could use some tightening up. Lia Cirio (sister of my crush) seemed totally in her element in this piece. She exudes a certain matriarchal vibe and her role in this suited her. The other soloists in this were equally fine. The corps, however…. well, this is one of those pieces where if one person’s arms are out of line with everyone else’s it sticks out like a sore thumb and I saw a lot of moments like that. I saw one reviewer who said that this piece simply didn’t translate to the outdoor setting, and I can see how that may be the case. A lot of the lines and angles couldn’t be seen properly from our vantage point. But I also felt like there were a lot of newer dancers in this piece and it simply wasn’t as polished as other dances they’ve done. A bit disappointing.
Intermission was a generous 25 minutes… good planning on the part of BB, I think. People needed all that time if they were to get to the Port-A-Potties and back! The evening was warm and it was good time to kibbitz with my friends over our favorites.
The second half of the show was a bit less frenzied with just two works.
The first was “Plan to B” by Boston Ballet’s resident choreographer, Jorma Elo. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the only other piece of his I’ve seen, “Awake Only.” The dancing was fine, I just didn’t feel like I got what he was trying to express. Well, “Plan to B” managed to change my mind about Elo. This is amazing and highlights the amazing breadth of skill the BB dancers have. I mean, the make story ballets come to life in such a dreamy fashion, but they are also incredibly strong contemporary dancers. The stuff they did in this piece was mind-blowing. (And, no, it didn’t hurt that a certain JC was in this one, too!). I loved it.
The second piece was another one of my favorites, both the work and the way BB performs it: Balanchine’s “Serenade.” This would be the third time I’ve seen “Serenade” this year. First time was during “Chroma” last spring. I thought my heart would pop out of my chest from the beauty of it all. Second time was watching it performed by NYCB at SPAC and I was strangely disappointed. That was Mr. B’s own company up there and I thought BB performed it far better. I blamed the outdoor setting. So… I was approaching this piece with mixed feelings. I loved the way BB did it last time I saw them, but was worried that the setting might mar it. Well, dear reader… mark this as a win for the home team. Not only did BB perform it as wonderfully as last spring, but the breeze and the long tulle skirts (nearly 3 football fields’ worth according to their fun FAQs!) made it simply dreamy. An exquisite ending for a lovely evening.
This performance was such an incredible gift to the city and I am so impressed at the turn-out it generated. Those 55,000 people who showed up to watch ballet must have felt like a huge gift to the company. I do hope that it inspired some of those people to pay to see a show during the upcoming season. That would be an even bigger gift.
And Boston Ballet is certainly deserving of that. They’ve had bumps in their road over the past 50 years, but I heartily feel that they are entering the next half-century as one of the pre-eminent dance companies in the US and hopefully the world. The calibre of dancing and the quality of shows they produce is simply amazing. I feel incredibly privileged to be a subscriber and get to see each of their shows. I am so excited for this season!
Were you one of the 55,000? If so, I’d love to hear what you thought of the show!
Edited to add this video recap posted by Boston Ballet!