REVIEW: A Flawless Season Premiere at Boston Ballet

 
Boston Ballet in Jorma Elo's Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet in Jorma Elo's Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

 

Flawlessly showcasing two new and dramatic ballets by two major choreographers, Boston Ballet has set the bar high for themselves and for dance in America with their season premiere program, Obsidian Tear. An already talented and versatile company, the dancers of Boston Ballet proved that they continue to take on challenges and stretch themselves to even higher levels of excellence.

Led wonderfully by Guest Conductor Daniel Stewart, the overture of Jean Sibelius’ tone poem Finlandia aptly set a tone of boldness and beauty for this celebration of 100 years of Finnish independence—the program features two Finnish composers and Boston Ballet’s Finnish resident choreographer, Jorma Elo.

It was an exciting moment for Boston Ballet to give the American premiere of Wayne McGregor’s contemporary Obsidian Tear, which the renown Mr. McGregor created for the Royal Ballet in London and Boston Ballet. The intense and vibrant ballet told a dramatic story: One man (Soloist Irlan Santos) is introduced to an established society of eight men. Will they accept him or reject him?

Irlan Silva and Paulo Arrais in Wayne McGregor's Obsidian Tear_ photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Irlan Silva and Paulo Arrais in Wayne McGregor's Obsidian Tear_ photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

For the eight characters, Mr. McGregor smartly choreographed movements in the same vocabulary, echoing and anticipating each other, to communicate Mr. Santos drowning in the mix. Principal Paulo Arrais and Mr. Santos perceptively danced the most complex and intriguing roles with athleticism, fluidity and profound emotion.

Eliciting audible reactions from the audience, Obsidian Tear was a staggering ballet unlike anything Boston has seen. Mr. McGregor’s vision is abstract, yet clear-eyed and creative, especially paired with Esa-Pekka Salonen’s dissonant and overwhelming score (featuring a superb solo violin, Christine Vitale), which told a story in itself.

Approaching ballet from a different angle, Mr. Elo choreographed The Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius to evoke a particular spirit. For the native Finn, the symphony sings of Finland’s nature and drastic changing seasons. Creatively obeying the music, it is clear that Mr. Elo knows this symphony inside and out; he choreographs what it demands, using it to its fullest potential and capitalizing on its heavenly melodies and haunting moods.

As with the score, Mr. Elo also makes the best of his dancers. Especially playing to the strengths of his seven principals, he choreographed distinct partnerings and solos that suited their talents and temperaments beautifully. Lia Cirio and Paul Craig were especially captivating and romantic in their sweet, attentive partnering.

Fellow principal couples Kathleen Breen Combes with Junxiong Zhao and Misa Kuranaga with John Lam were outstanding as well, with great translation of Mr. Elo’s choreography. Principal Ashley Ellis was another highlight—delightful and graceful, she perfectly captured Mr. Elo’s subtle humor.

Lia Cirio and Paul Craig in Jorma Elo's Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius_ photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

Lia Cirio and Paul Craig in Jorma Elo's Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius_ photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

From the moment the curtain rose to reveal dancers posed strikingly onstage, Sibelius was filled with visual splendor. Mr. Elo has a way of creating aesthetically pleasing performances with his choices of music, stunning choreography and an eye for color—in this case, with gorgeous Yumiko costumes of muted mossy green and mauve.

Between new company members and promoted dancers, the Obsidian Tear program featured some spectacular debuts. New principals Mr. Craig, Mr. Zhao and Patrick Yocum proved their new ranking, Mr. Craig with intense, strong and graceful performances in both ballets, Mr. Yocum with a matured elegance and Mr. Zhao with soaring technical and artistic excellence.

A host of new corps dancers helped make the corps tight and robust, with some of the most cohesive dancing I’ve seen them execute. In commendable performances, two new artists of the ballet, Patric Palkens and Chrystyn Mariah Fentroy, gave unexpected debuts due to dancers’ injuries. Both performed very well, and I was particularly impressed with Ms. Fentroy in one of the three principal roles in Sibelius on Saturday. With capability, energy and exquisite ports de bras, Ms. Fentroy danced a show to be proud of. Such performances from the corps de ballet show just how strong Boston Ballet’s company is as a whole.

This is a show—and a season—not to miss.

Boston Ballet will perform Obsidian Tear through November 11 at the Boston Opera House. For tickets and show times, visit the Boston Ballet website.