Boston Ballet's latest triple bill was a carefully curated program of contemporary ballet, showcasing not only the technical versatility and virtuosity of the dancers, but also the vast range of potential movement and artistic extension that is possible when choreographers who are fluent in the language of classical ballet – and fantastically innovative – combine with dancers of prodigious skill. Boston Ballet is rapidly becoming a company of stars, and this program not only gave them the opportunity to illustrate their facility for an appreciative (if disappointingly balletomane-heavy) audience, but hammered yet another nail into the coffin of that frustrating phrase, "Ballet is a dying art." Ballet in Boston is alive, thriving and pushing new boundaries through the means of advanced and extended classicism.

Paulo Arrais and Lia Cirio in Elo's <i>Bach Cello Suites</i> © Rosalie O'Connor
Paulo Arrais and Lia Cirio in Elo's Bach Cello Suites
© Rosalie O'Connor

First created for the company in 2015, Jorma Elo's Bach Cello Suites opens simply, with cellist Sergey Antonov downstage left and Mikko Nissinen's fascinating grid-like set twisted above the stage. I am very fond of Elo’s always thoughtful and graceful work, and particularly love his unabashed fear of the beautiful. For Elo, things do not have to be odd or disjointed to be creative. Bach Cello Suites appeared to play more with overt choreographic devices than usual, illustrating negative space, canon, and other creative tropes, underscored with a throbbing but subtle theme of longing and unfinished love. This was the first opportunity I've had to properly appreciate Maria Baranova's work, and her duet with Junxiong Zhao was elegantly understated. Lia Cirio and Paulo Arrais had a dramatic duet that appeared to be perhaps inspired by the adagios in Swan Lake. Cirio was well cast in this role, her strength matched by Arrais. Derek Dunn appears to be able to manage any technical challenge on his own, though his partnering of Kathleen Breen Combes had a few unsettled turns. The casting of second-soloist Addie Tapp and longtime principal Lasha Khozashvili, surprised me; though both are two of BB’s brightest stars, and well matched in terms of physical stature, stylistically, they are incongruous. I certainly hope to see this fascinating team cast together again.

The second work, Justin Peck's In Creases, featuring two pianos upstage and eight of BB's most spritely and spirited dancers downstage, felt a bit like a drop of New York City Ballet at its best and most joyous. This was Peck's first work for NYCB, where he is the second person (after Jerome Robbins) ever to hold the position of resident choreographer. His fascinating use of physicality and choreographic principles culminated in a sequence in which each gentleman jeté-s – in the manner of a leprechaun – over the women, who lie like beautifully Pilates-infused logs on the floor in a criss-cross pattern. Sequences like this give a nearly inclusive feel to the performance, as though allowing the audience in on a private choreographic joke. Peck’s classical pedigree has its moments of pure classicism, though, too, like when each couple's double pirouette finishes in an absolutely square, majestic, first arabesque. The delight, vivacity and humor of principals Ji Young Chae, Kathleen Breen Combes, first year artist Chyrstyn Fentroy and Addie Tapp (whose first arabesque was so utterly lovely, I believe it would have pleased any aesthetic) were matched in excitement by their male counterpoints: principal Patrick Yocum, artist Daniel Cooper, passionate soloist Irlan Silva, and effervescent second soloist Lawrence Rines, whose facial expressions are as delightful as his dancing. 

BB's second year of their five-year partnership with William Forsythe lifted off with Pas/Parts 2018, a revision of the world première of the original, which premiered at the Paris Opera in 1999. Though opinions may vary widely on Forsythe's style, it's impossible to deny that he can put on a show of modern ballet that excites, engages and draws even the most ardent classicist into his world of dance. When the curtain raised on Chyrstyn Fentroy, alone, against three enormous white walls, there was an audible gasp from the audience. The 20 sections that primarily focus on duets, trios and short solos, with a few larger group works, were a wonderful showcase for BB's depth. It was particularly delightful to see Haley Schwan, one of the many to depart from Berlin's Staatsballet, performing the contemporary classics she had appeared to develop such an affinity for in Germany. Hannah Bettes, a surprise second soloist this year, appeared to have a new-found confidence in her dancing. Her duet with Patrick Yocum was a highlight, as was Irlan Silva's solo. Seeing Villella-esque Silva's relatively brief encounters this evening with Misa Kuranaga, one wishes to see this team together more often. 

***11