By Mary Hierholzer
Boston Ballet’s final production of the 2016–17 season is nothing short of impressive. In a triple bill that boasts three of the biggest names in ballet choreography—George Balanchine, Jorma Elo and Jerome Robbins—the company brought their best to the stage on opening night of Robbins/The Concert last week.
Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto made a stunning opening to the program, and would have even made a powerful finale, as well. In this ballet in particular, Balanchine created choreography that shows off the technique of excellent dancers, so naturally, Boston Ballet’s four principal leads, Seo Hye Han, Lasha Khozashvili, Lia Cirio and John Lam, rose to the occasion with distinction.
Ms. Han, who is concluding her first year as a principal dancer with the company, truly came into her own in this performance, springing to life and soaking up the spotlight with confidence, vibrancy and an air of lavishness. She with Mr. Khozashvili, and Ms. Cirio with Mr. Lam brought huge energy to their onstage relationships in partnering that demands rapt attention to detail and to their counterpart.
From start to finish, Stravinsky Violin Concerto was smartly presented. The solo work was precise, the leads demonstrated incredible aptitude, the corps created an infectious presence, and solo violinist Jason Horowitz deserves high praise for performing the very difficult concerto. It’s hard to say which movement was best, but by the end, the Capriccio felt like a party onstage.
Next, Jorma Elo’s highly anticipated Creatures of Egmont hit the stage for its world premiere. Elo took a classical route for his new piece, evidenced in its organized structure and elegant movement. The score of Beethoven, Schumann and Bach was spectacular, and nicely performed with David Briskin as conductor. This music created a picturesque tone for the six dancing couples, each of whom had moments in both corps choreography and their respective pas de deux.
Soloist Sabi Varga gave the most compelling performance in Egmont. With an intimate knowledge of the choreographer’s vision, he is able to dig into the art and present something wonderful. Elo looks good on Mr. Varga. Principal Paulo Arrais wowed with some extremely agile leaps, and with him, Principal Misa Kuranaga was breathtaking. Ms. Cirio and Mr. Khozashvili were appropriately grand and powerful.
It was wonderful to see Second Soloist Addie Tapp paired with Corps de Ballet Dancer Drew Nelson on opening night—their long lines were ethereal and poised, a perfect fit for Egmont. I enjoyed Ms. Tapp’s duets with Principal Dusty Button, as well. It was a pairing I’d not before seen, but the two synced nicely and were captivating together onstage. It was another stellar performance for Ms. Button, who also recently impressed as the Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty.
Despite these talented dancers and my respect for Mr. Elo’s vision, something lacked. I perceived the tension between classical and contemporary, where at moments the two could not reconcile. And with larghetto tempos at tender times, it was difficult for the dancers to remain synchronized, and broke the impression of smoothness. Egmont was absolutely packed with steps, and such ambition compromised the overall energy.
Still, Creatures of Egmont is an incredibly beautiful and evocative piece performed laudably by Boston Ballet. Many of Elo’s aesthetic arrangements onstage were visually stunning and memorable.
In a total change of pace, Jerome Robbins’ satirical ballet, The Concert, finished off the show. It’s a piece that Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen compared last year in an interview with the writer to a New Yorker cartoon. It’s a caricature and a spoof; a tug-of-war between the aristocratic pretention you’d witness at a concert and… well, just about everything else.
It is a true cast of characters: the sniveling pedant (Soloist Patrick Yocum), the unassuming dork (Soloist Isaac Akiba), the perplexingly aggravated and grumpy concert-goer (Corps de Ballet Dancer Dalay Parrondo), the effortlessly whimsical beauty (Principal Kathleen Breen Combes), your classically at-odds couple who will stop at nothing to see each other’s demise (Ms. Button and Mr. Khozashvili), and, of course, the stuffy musician (performed beautifully and hilariously by pianist Freda Locker).
Ms. Breen Combes absolutely sparkled and was purely believable in her role, and for the third time that night, Mr. Khozashvili danced an exceptional and tireless show. Together, the whole company contributed to quite a theatrical performance. The attitude of this ballet doesn’t stop at New Yorker, though. With unexpected, almost slapstick humor, The Concert has a hint of Monty Python to it, and the company captured the outrageous tone wonderfully.
Robbins/The Concert captures some of the very best of this leading company’s diverse abilities. It was a strong exclamation point to another impressive season with Boston Ballet, and sets high expectations for what is to come in their promising future.
Boston Ballet will perform Robbins/The Concert through May 27 at the Boston Opera House. For tickets and show times, visit the Boston Ballet website.