Opera House, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC; June 3, 2014
The Boston Ballet performed at Washington, DC’s Kennedy Center this year, not as part of the Ballet Across America series, which last took place in June 2013, but standing on its very own to cap off their 50th anniversary season. The company chose to present three works, two by Czech choreographers,
Petr Zuska and Jiri Kylian, and one by George Balanchine. The Balanchine piece, “Rubies,” was placed in the middle of the program, and it held up well. Indeed, it was little surprise, really, that Balanchine’s choreography continued to delight. “Rubies” seemed fresh and pert even after the passage of more than 35 years. Those pelvic tilts and jazzy kicks and sweet pizzaz get me every time.
The Boston Ballet’s “Rubies” was not without flaws. The flaws, however, were not attributable to the choreography. The dancers (Misa Kuranga, Jeffrey Cirio, and Whitney Jensen were the leads) performed “Rubies” reasonably adeptly, and they captured some of the infectious joy, but I nonetheless felt rather ho-hum about it. This “Rubies” just wasn’t the showstopper it can be. There was no oomph. I longed for more crispness and precision, more overall tightness. Plus, the sound of the plastic jewels on the dancers’ skirts smacking together annoyed and distracted me. I laughed to myself when I read that the Washington Post’s dance critic, Sarah Kaufman, noticed it, too. Perhaps you should consider replacing these costumes in favor of quieter ones, Boston Ballet? As a side note, it was nice to see Diana Albrecht, who once danced with The Washington Ballet, back in DC looking lovely in “Rubies.”
The opening work, “D.M.J. 1953-1977,” was also one that I’d seen before, and seen performed better. In 2009, the Czech National Theater Ballet brought it to the Kennedy Center, and I sensed more depth of feeling from them than from the Boston Ballet’s dancers. As the work is a tribute to three beloved Czech composers, Antonin Dvorak, Bohuslav Martinu, and Leos Janacek (forming the initials “D.M.J.” in the title), perhaps the Czech company naturally felt more connected to the piece. Lia Cirio (she is the sister of Jeffrey Cirio, and it’s notable that they’re both principals in the same company) and Lasha Khozashvili danced beautifully, and yet at the end of the work, when there probably ought to have been pangs of emotion, they failed to move me. A gentleman behind me grumbled, “I thought it was corny.” I can understand his sentiment. “D.M.J. 1953-1977” makes copious use of blood red roses and large black rectangular boxes that serve as props that the dancers sit atop, hide behind, slide down, etc. Although mildly entertaining, the drama inherent in the work didn’t come across as genuine from the Boston Ballet. It came across as, well, kind of corny.
Kylian’s “Bella Figura” closed the program, and this work was new to me. I’ve seen the Boston Ballet perform other Kylian works, and the company, according to the Washington Post, boasts ten Kylian works in total. Generally speaking, I’m a Kylian fan. “Bella Figura” has some stunning moments, but I can’t count it among my favorite Kylian pieces. In my view, “Bella Figura” was a bit of a jumbled mess. Playing with the height and placement of curtains (this was also done to a lesser extent in “D.M.J. 1953-1977”) may be trendy. I don’t mind it, necessarily. But in “Bella Figura” the curtain play got out of hand. A few instances of using curtains to frame an intimate duet, or to block off the upper half of the stage for artist effect would be alright, but the curtains were manipulated to such an extent in “Bella Figura” that I grew tired of it and wished the curtains would either stay put or disappear! The frequent changing of costumes and mood also threw me off. In fact, I felt that Kylian was teasing the audience by melding together extremely disparate parts. I don’t need a coherent story, but the dancers warming up and repeating sequences in silence in the beginning, with naked mannequins in clear boxes hanging overhead, seemingly had no link to where the ballet ended up – more dancing in silence, with flames suddenly flickering from the far sides of the stage. If the point was to defy expectations and confound viewers, Kylian succeeded. I loved the slithery torsos, the body slaps, the bewitchingly quirky movements, but I didn’t love “Bella Figura” as a whole. I prefer good solid dancing to triumph over an emphasis on spectacle. In “Bella Figura,” the extraneous elements overwhelmed the high quality dancing.