Boston Ballet ends its 2014-2015 season with Thrill of Contact, a truly thrilling program of four works that showcase varied styles from American ballet’s nascent years through to the present, with a world premiere by the company’s own principal dancer, Jeffrey Cirio. Three of ballet's greatest accompany Cirio on this bill: 20th century masters George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, and contmeporary choreographer William Forsythe.

Balanchine’s gem of classicism, Theme and Variations opens the program. Commissioned by American Ballet Theatre in 1947, this piece evokes the old world charm of Imperial Russian ballet. Set to Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 3 in G Major, Op. 55, Balanchine was asked to create a work reminiscent of the wedding scene from Sleeping Beauty, complete with pomp and procession. On Friday night, principals Ashley Ellis and Paulo Arrais were the Princess Aurora and Prince Désiré equivalents, and were flanked by the corps dressed in courtly glittering tutus and handsome jackets all beneath a shimmering chandelier. Balanchine’s classical works are among the most difficult a company can tackle – his choreography requires incredibly fast footwork, technical virtuosity, an acute musical ear, and immense stamina. Unfortunately, Ellis and Arrais were not up to the task on Friday night; a curious incident, as I’ve seen them both perform admirably on all other occasions. I will chalk it up to nerves and perhaps exhaustion from a long season. The corps was wonderful and hardly just the background in this work – Balanchine’s signature formation changes provide the audience with an array of visual stimuli to accompany the grandiose score.

Next up is Cirio’s fremd, a contemporary work set to music by Olaf Bender, Frédéric Chopin, John Field and Aphex Twin. I imagine that Cirio may have had some misgivings about debuting his first mainstage work alongside such legendary choreographers, but in the end fremd is a well selected piece for this program and serves to showcase the company’s talent and versatility. The program notes that Cirio was inspired by the concept of the German word fremd, “of being foreign, alien, strange, or different” – this inspiration is evidenced by contorted bodies high shoulders, open chests, knocked knees, and at times a sense of unease. Altan Duragaa was powerful as the lead in this work alongside six other company dancers, all wonderful purveyors of Cirio’s choreography. The work shows heavy influence from Boston Ballet’s resident choreographer, Jorma Elo – long soaring lines, juxtaposed with hunched grounded movements, and an occasional twitch of a finger or hand in synchronization with a buzzing electrical current in the soundtrack. Cirio’s musicality on stage is superb and has translated well to his choreography – he is able to create affective movement to a very diverse set of musical selections. Overall fremd is a great debut by Cirio.

After a brief pause, Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude is thrust upon the audience. It is a thrilling and dizzying display of exactitude, performed by five dancers to Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C-major. The piece opens with blaring horns and strings, and the precise tendus of Jeffrey Cirio and John Lam – perhaps the last simple movements of the work. Joining the men on stage are Kathleen Breen Combes, Erica Cornejo, and Misa Kuranaga, wearing fantastical plate-like, spring-green tutus, and the five dancers proceed to perform a series of solos, duets and trios full of fast turns, jumps, and even faster footwork. All five dancers were superb, but as is almost always the case when they are on stage, Misa Kuranaga and Jeffrey Cirio were the standouts for their easy grace, sublime technicality, and remarkable presence.  

Closing the program is Robbins’ hilarious and riotous ballet The Concert. It first premiered in 1956, but its comedy is timeless. The basis for the ballet is a diverse set of characters attending a piano concert – solo pianist Freda Locker was in fact on stage and a character in her own right. The ballet’s subtitle is Or, the Perils of Everybody, and while Chopin’s piano score is played, we witness Robbins’ genius mold the oddities of everyday life into great comedy. Kathleen Breen Combes returned in this piece as a flighty and behatted female who is lusted after by a scene stealing, Sabi Varga, as a Groucho Marx like character (complete with cigar), whom in turn is chased around by his dominating wife played perfectly pretentiously, by Caralin Curcio. Each dancer embodies a quirky character that we might be familiar with from our everyday lives, and together they perform a series of vignettes each funnier than the last. The Concert brought the audience to its feet – it’s clearly a welcome addition to the Boston Ballet repertory.