Thirty years after its last visit to London, Boston Ballet has returned to the British capital in a celebratory mood. With the company opening its 50th season, the London tour has been planned both to launch the anniversary and to strengthen the growing international reputation of the company. For the lucky London audiences, the visit of the Bostonians is an exciting opportunity to enjoy ballet with an American flavour. Boston Ballet is proud to give its productions the qualities of energy, speed and sharpness that form the American style, and the programme for opening night at the Coliseum had two well-known works by George Balanchine and one piece by the current resident choreographer of the company, Jorma Elo, that are built upon these qualities. The only piece in the bill to honour the European past of ballet was Vaslav Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun.
The evening started spectacularly with Serenade. The first ballet Balanchine created for his American students still provokes admiration for its beauty, harmony and elegance. Premièred in 1934, it is a signature work in the American ballet repertory and a masterpiece of dance history. It avoids any kind of plot or characterization, and rather rejoices in the power of dance to create emotions. It was conceived as a lesson on ballet technique for the emerging dancers Balanchine was then training in his school, and it is also an example of Balanchine’s distinctive understanding of the relationship between dance and music. Fellow travellers, they possess equal prominence in the production. On Wednesday, Tchaikovsky’s score sounded lively and warm in the hands of the Royal Philarmonic Orchestra conducted by Jonathan McPhee, and Balanchine’s choreography was enthusiastically embodied by the Boston Ballet dancers. They were sharply disciplined, quietly joyful and delightfully musical. I particularly liked the rubatos by Ashley Ellis and Nelson Madrigal in the pas de deux for the Waltz section. The whole ensemble deservedly received a warm welcome applause after their wonderful performance of Serenade.
The Afternoon of a Faun made less of an impact. Though Claude Debussy’s music and Nijinsky’s tableau-like movements still cause awe for their inventiveness and air of novelty, the performance of the title role by Altan Dugaraa did not extract all the emotive potential of the character. He opted for highlighting the animal features of the creature and very convincingly conveyed the sense of otherness in the Faun. The moment when he falls in love with the Nymph, intensely played by Lorna Feijóo that evening, was the peak of the production. It froze the moment, with a mesmerizing stillness recalling a powerful spell.
Elo’s Plan to B returned the evening to the atmosphere of vitality initiated by Serenade. The piece is set to a violin score by Heinrich Biber and is built upon fast, clean, elegant movements. The set and the costumes are sober and help give all emphasis to the six dancing bodies. The choreography for two women and four men is rich in energy and sharp contrasts. Dancers Whitney Jensen and siblings Lia and Jeffrey Cirio were particularly brilliant in giving the piece a combination of physical power and air of sophistication.
The second piece by Balanchine in the programme put the evening to an end. The almost 40 years that separate Symphony in Three Movements (1972) from Serenade are evident in the later piece’s surface. Despite being deeply rooted in the vocabulary of classical ballet, Symphony... already contains many nuances that show the jazz influences on Balanchine’s style. Also present in the score by Stranvinsky, the Africanist elements give the piece an appearance of modernity. The performance by Boston Ballet honoured the complexity of the piece, especially in the athletic and juvenile flavour that it possesses. Though the angular and jazzy movements were less evident, Kathleen Breen Combes led with aplomb and sensuality her duet with Paulo Arrais, and Misa Kuranaga and Jeffrey Cirio were charmingly vital and gay in their pas de deux. As the curtain went down, the whole company looked splendid in the well-known pictorial composition that closes this ballet.