London Coliseum; July 3, 2013

David Mead

Corina Gill, Misa Kuranaga, and Shelby Elsbree in George Balanchine's Serenade. Photo Gene Schiavone

Corina Gill, Misa Kuranaga, and Shelby Elsbree in George Balanchine’s Serenade. Photo Gene Schiavone

Welcome back! In London for the first time in thirty years, and in their fiftieth anniversary season, Boston Ballet opened with a beautifully crafted programme that showed the company’s considerable talents well and challenged the dancers in different ways, giving the audience a good time to boot.

Right from the opening image (cue applause), Balanchine’s “Serenade” is beautiful picture after beautiful picture, beautiful pattern after beautiful pattern. The ballet is like an old friend, but like a friend it has the occasional off day, not that we ever really fall out of love with it, of course. There were no such problems here. The whole cast danced with great verve, looking completely at home in what is actually a very modern work. Of the soloists, the vivacious Misa Kuranaga was especially crisp and neat with footwork to die for. Lia Cirio was absorbing as the ‘dark angel’ while Ashley Ellis had a lyrical presence as the ‘heroine.’ A special mention too for Jonathan McPhee, who led the excellent Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and took the Tchaikovsky at a brisk pace without losing its romantic feel. The ballet always looks so much better when attacked in this way.

I’m not entirely convinced Nijinsky’s “Afternoon of a Faun” still cuts it these days, as important a historical piece as it is. Watching it is a bit like casting one’s eyes over a series of Grecian friezes. It’s as much about stylised position and shape as movement, but how you get to those positions and where the intention comes from is still very important. Maybe that’s why it is so difficult to get just right. Too often here position seemed all, with little motivation for what we were seeing. I never really believed in Altan Dugaraa’s Faun whose movement was too staccato for my liking, although I was rather taken by Lorna Feijóo’s delicate and wide-eyed Nymph.

Resident choreographer Jorma Elo’s “Plan to B” took things to the other end of the energy scale. Comprised essentially of a bracing series of solos and duets and with a hint of Forsythe about it, it is fifteen minutes of electric dance, jam packed with fast-wheeling arms and even speedier wheeling turns. It all compliments rather neatly with the strings of Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s restless violin sonatas. Among the men in particular there is a sense of competition; “anything you can do…” The cast of six all looked completely at home with its athleticism, with Jeffrey Cirio in particular standing out. The audience loved every minute of it.

07_Symphony in Three Movements

Boston Ballet in George Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements. Photo Rosalie O’Connor

More Balanchine closed the evening, this time “Symphony in Three Movements” from the other end of his career. The opening is as striking as that in “Serenade,” but instead of romantic figures in the moonlight, read powerful Amazons. There followed a celebration of jazzy exuberance. Again, the whole company took to the ballet with ease, capturing its perkiness with aplomb, although some of the complex patterning was maybe not quite as tight as it could have been. Kuranaga was again extremely impressive, while in the central pas de deux, Kathleen Breen Combes was elegant opposite Paulo Arrais.

Despite the doubts over “Faun,” the company brought a breath of fresh air to the Coliseum stage. I, for one, am already looking forward to programme 2 with some anticipation.