Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Boston Ballet And Balanchine

Last weekend, Joshua and I went downtown to attend Boston Ballet’s all-Balanchine program.

Boston Ballet is in the midst of a rigorous series of performances.

In April, the company presented the full-length “Coppelia” over eleven days. After an eighteen-day break, the company offered its Balanchine program over eleven days. A Jiri Kylian program, also to be presented over eleven days, will immediately follow the Balanchine program (the Kylian program will begin tomorrow). Such an intense series of performances within the course of six weeks is assured to tax the strength of any company comprised of forty-some dancers.

The strenuous workload was on display Saturday night. The company made a game effort, but its display of Balanchine dancing lacked the virtuosity, precision and assurance often—but not always—to be seen at New York City Ballet.

The program was a splendid one.

“The Four Temperaments” began the evening, and received the strongest performance.

Saturday night was Josh’s third encounter with “The Four Temperaments”—we had previously caught performances by NYCB and San Francisco Ballet—and Josh decided, after his third viewing, that he liked the ballet after all. (Josh had hated “The Four Temperaments” the first time he saw it, and had more or less still disliked it after a second viewing.) For me, “The Four Temperaments” is the quintessential Balanchine ballet, the ballet that most captures and defines the “look” that was to become New York City Ballet and its exalted style of modern classicism.

“Apollo” was the second work on the program.

I have never seen “Apollo” come off—the ballet probably requires a type of “star” no longer produced—but it is possible to see the greatness of the ballet even in a weak performance. The Boston performance was tepid, with “student academy” written all over it. It was the least impressive “Apollo” performance I have ever witnessed. In his first encounter with “Apollo”, Josh was mostly indifferent, and a little bored.

“Theme And Variations” ended the evening.

The most overtly-virtuosic of the evening’s offerings, “Theme And Variations” always provides a smashing end to a program, even in a sub-par performance—which is exactly what Boston Ballet offered. The fun of the ballet came through, as did a glimpse of the dazzle, but the performance was sloppy and haphazard, and exposed deficiencies in the dancers’ techniques. Nevertheless, Josh loved seeing “Theme And Variations” for the first time. The work never fails to ignite.

I would hate to have to run a regional ballet company. New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre always absorb the finest dancers emerging from the academies. Other companies must sort through the leftovers.

Unlike musicians, dancers enjoy very short working lives. There is a very small pool of active virtuoso dancers at a given time, and that pool is soaked up by the giant New York companies.

Regional companies presenting Balanchine choreography, which ruthlessly exposes any and all technical shortcomings, engage in an inherently risky enterprise. Josh and I were pleased to see the local ensemble offer three seminal Balanchine works on one program—but we were also disappointed that the performances were not as fine (and not as sharp) as they might have been.

Josh and I have adopted a practice of catching Boston Ballet performances near the end of a run of performances (yet, whenever possible, catching the opening-night casts). We have done so on the assumption, perhaps mistaken, that performances become more confident during the course of a run.

For next season, we may have to reassess our assumption and review our practice. We are starting to wonder whether Boston Ballet dancers become tired during a run of performances, causing opening-night standards to deteriorate.


  1. Hiya Drew & Josh,
    You guys are an adventurous bunch! :o) I've been meaning to catch more ballet performances in San Diego to supplement my classical music and opera diet, but things are quiet on the ballet front here at the moment... We don't have any show until 3 days of Balanchine in November.

    Good on Boston Ballet for their ambitious program! I hope the Bostonians are turning up to support the outfit like you guys do, too.

    Cheerio from slumbering San Diego (no ballet until November, no opera until next January, and the symphony is about to go on a month break before the summer pops season... Good things there's still Opera In Cinema, I guess),
    Smorgy :o)

  2. The ballet appears to be pretty well supported here, Smorg. Crowds are good, and the company keeps itself in the public eye.

    Opera is another matter. Boston has two companies, both very small potatoes, and neither is very good. Minnesota Opera is a cut above either of the Boston companies, and I suspect your San Diego Opera rates more highly than the Boston enterprises.

    For next season, one Boston company will offer “Tosca”, “Agrippina” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. The other will present “Fidelio”, “Cardillac” and “Maria Padilla”.

    I would love to hear “Cardillac”—but I cannot imagine the local company doing justice to the work, if for no other reason than the company’s orchestra would be certain to butcher Hindemith’s score.