Boston Ballet’s Fall Program is a mix of three contemporary pieces, with music ranging from the Rolling Stones to piano and organ arrangements by J.S. Bach and electronica by Thom Willems. It began and ended on an upbeat, bookending a thoughtful (and thought-provoking) world première centerpiece.

Misa Kuranaga in Forsythe's The Second Detail © Boston Ballet
Misa Kuranaga in Forsythe's The Second Detail
© Boston Ballet

The evening began with Christopher Bruce’s Rooster, set to some of the Rolling Stones’ most iconic songs, including “Little Red Rooster”, “Lady Jane”, “As Tears Go By” and “Ruby Tuesday”, It begins with rooster-inspired, cock-of-the-walk choreography, and continues with a mix of contemporary ballet and a heavy dose of the 60s. It could easily slip into novelty, but there is real dance here, with moments of elegance woven throughout.

Highlights include “As Tears Go By”, shot through with stylized arguments, bullying and ostracization – some subtle, some less so. “Ruby Tuesday”, which is reminiscent of Martha Graham, was danced by Whitney Jensen who drew a fireworks-worthy gasp from the audience when she dove into the arms of several waiting men, and was tossed – spinning – into the air.

The choreography has equal notes of rock and roll and London School of Economics. Costumes by Marian Bruce were primarily sport coats, colorful ties and ruffled tuxedo shirts for the men, and black dresses with red inset panels for the women, with slight variations between songs.

I was sorry to hear “Sympathy for the Devil” because I knew it meant Rooster was over. It’s intelligent, witty, and terrifically fun.

Boston Ballet is always exciting, especially shining in contemporary pieces which test the edges of artistry and ability. One of the most compelling things (aside from the dancers) is the chance to see new work fairly regularly. In Boston Ballet’s Fall Program, the audience was treated to the world première of Awake Only, the tenth work Jorma Elo has created for Boston Ballet, where he is resident choreographer.

Awake Only follows the arc of a man’s life, beginning with a child (Liam Lurker) expressing astonishment as the curtain rises. The child prods the grown-up version of himself (Jeffrey Cirio) through life, bringing him back as he pushes him forward.

“Imagine seeing your life in front of you like a merry-go-round,” said Elo in a press release; “all the experiences, all the people you met, and how seeing those people make you realize how you have changed.”

At times, the choreography bordered on mime and I felt like I was missing some of what Elo was conveying. Having now watched the arc of the piece, I’d like a chance to see it again and put together missing puzzle pieces. It would be worth a second viewing for the ensemble work alone.

There’s nothing to figure out in William Forsythe’s The Second Detail. You sit back, hold on, and enjoy the ride.

On the way out, I overheard some patrons talking about The Second Detail, calling it “too chaotic”. I love the chaos. I have seen it a few times, and can’t imagine it ever getting old. There’s just so much to see – so many details to focus on. Just as it reaches a new level of intensity, the corps cracks a smile and settles into a new groove.

As performing companies of all disciplines set their sights on new and younger audiences, they often hedge their bets, cushioning new work with tried-and-true classics. Seeing the Rolling Stones on the program must have made people rethink ballet, but every choreographer featured in this program has rethought and reinvented ballet. It’s fresh, new and thrilling – especially when done to the exacting level of a world-class company. Boston Ballet offers two story ballets later in the season, but for this program, the company put all their cards on the table and saw they had a winner.