Boston Ballet's latest production, Pricked, is a triple bill that demonstrates the company's versatility both technically and expressively, while showcasing ballet’s traditional past in Études and exposing us to its more recent incarnations in D.M.J. 1953-1977 and Cacti.

Études should be familiar to those who regularly attend the ballet, not only because the company has performed it in the recent past, but also because it is an homage to the classical art form. The piece begins with dancers performing routine ballet class movements at the barre in varying combinations and rounds, with just the dancers' legs in spotlights, showcasing their exacting movements. The piece progresses, as a ballet class would, to larger and more intricate steps. Misa Kuranaga performed as the main ballerina on Thursday night, partnering with John Lam and accompanied by Jeffrey Cirio and Isaac Akiba. The four main dancers brought life to this ballet, which otherwise felt a little flat on opening night. Kuranaga was brilliant in her role, briefly appearing as the timid and flighty sylph of the romantic era in a long gauzy dress, and then returning to execute quick and powerful turns and leaps in a classical short tutu. Choreographed in 1948 by Harald Lander, it is the oldest ballet in the program and highlights the company's classical technique, which, when compared to the contemporary choreography of the second two pieces, proves that Boston Ballet can do it all.

D.M.J. 1953-1977, created by Czech choreographer Petr Zuska in 2004, made its North American debut on Thursday night. The ballet’s name is derived from the initials of the three Czech composers whose works comprise the score: Antonín Dvořák, Bohuslav Martinů, and Leos Janáček. This ballet is a theatrical and emotional piece about love and loss, focused on the intense relationship of one couple, performed on opening night by Lia Cirio and Lasha Khozashvili. The ensemble cast creates a mesmerizing backdrop, interacting with large rectangular blocks that are moved about the stage to create a variety of set designs in concert with a black curtain that occasionally lowers to isolate the couple from the larger group. Zuska’s choreography for the ensemble is dynamic – the dancers crisscross the stage, dodge around the set pieces and partner in airy lifts. Lia Cirio is a force in contemporary choreography – she is at once lithe and powerful, sinuously moving through the fluid movements and contorting into shapes of frantic vulnerability. Lasha Khozashvili holds the attention of the audience in the opening moments of the ballet; sitting front and center stage, he robotically moves as if unable to control his body’s actions, all with a numb, expressionless gaze. D.M.J. 1953-1977, is striking and heartbreaking, bringing the audience’s spirits to a simmer before the final, explosive piece in the program, Cacti.

Cacti, also having its North American debut with Boston Ballet, is by far the most comically entertaining ballet that I have seen. A whirlwind of androgynous costumes, dramatic lighting, spoken word, farcically quirky movements, and even a large number of the potted flora that give the ballet its name, Cacti left me wiping away tears of laughter. Conceived in 2010 by relative newcomer to the dance world, Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman, this piece is a self-aware parody of contemporary dance, poking fun at the choreographers, dancers and critics of the art form. A large portion of the ballet has the dancers perched atop, dancing around, or banging on white, square platforms, while a string quartet meanders the stage. Occasionally a pompous voiceover sounds (presumably the dance critic), narrating what the audience “should” be thinking, using absurdly embellished metaphors that evoke chuckles from the crowd. In the most amusing section of the piece, Jeffrey Cirio and Whitney Jensen perform a contemporary pas de deux while a male and female voice infers their internal dialogue. 

Throughout the ballet the dancers use their bodies as percussive instruments, pose with cacti, run maniacally in place, and conduct the orchestra from their white platforms with zany movements one might expect from an enthusiastic toddler or inebriated adult. This may all sound like it creates a chaotic experience, however Cacti is so well crafted by Ekman, and so well executed by the company that everything happening on stage is cohesive. Boston Ballet is flawless in this piece, tackling the hyper-speed choreography with perfect synchronicity, and expertly performing the given emotive cues that are such an essential part of engaging the audience in the ballet’s comedy. Cacti is an all-encompassing and memorable dance experience, and is certainly not one to be missed.