The stars were out on Boston Common Saturday night as Boston Ballet celebrated the start of its 50th season with a triumphant free outdoor version of its annual “Night of Stars” gala. It would have been nice if there had been stars visible in the sky as well as on stage, but the rain held off, and it turned out to be a beautiful end-of-summer evening. According to the Ballet, officials from the city’s Parks & Recreation Department estimated the crowd at 55,000 — about the same number that saw each performance of Boston Lyric Opera’s “Carmen” on the Common in 2002.
Artistic director Mikko Nissinen’s well-chosen program began with some party pieces. Performing the pas de deux from “Don Quixote,” Jeffrey Cirio displayed speed and elegance and superb control in winding down his pirouettes, and Misa Kuranaga tossed off effortless doubles in her fouetté sequence. The three excerpts from Christopher Bruce’s “Rooster” gave the dancers a chance to kick up their heels to Rolling Stones songs. The highlight here was the “Play With Fire” duet between a cocky Bradley Schlagheck and a no-nonsense Dalay Parrondo.
Avetik Karapetyan was a little tentative in what seemed a truncated Golden Idol variation from “La Bayadère,” but Lorna Feijóo and Yury Yanowsky brought intense emotion to the evening’s world premiere, “The Swan.” Former company principal Viktor Plotnikov took the familiar cello solo from Saint-Saëns’s “Carnival of the Animals” — music that Michel Fokine used for “The Dying Swan” — and created a wistful duet that suggested Odette and Prince Siegfried in an updated “Swan Lake.”
After that came three complete works from the company’s London tour in July. George Balanchine’s “Symphony in Three Movements,” with its many moving parts, doesn’t read well from a distance and was a challenge for the cameras, but the energy was palpable. Boston Ballet resident choreographer Jorma Elo’s “Plan to B” is a piece I’ve seen at least a dozen times, and it’s never looked sharper or more kinetic. Balanchine’s “Serenade” made for a breathtaking finale, with the women’s translucent skirts billowing in the breeze. The dancers looked completely comfortable on the outdoor stage, and the Boston Ballet Orchestra under music director Jonathan McPhee was also in fine form.
Most of the audience would have been following the action on the big TV screens. Switching between close-ups and ensemble shots, the camerawork was generally good. There was a tendency to pull back when the music stopped, so in “Rooster,” the screens missed the “Play With Fire” moment when Parrondo flicked out Schlagheck’s fire, and also the conclusion of “Sympathy for the Devil,” when Robert Kretz readjusted his tie one last time and glared at the audience.
But the screens were put to good use before the show and during intermission: the dancers introduced themselves, the company talked about itself, and corps member Rachel Cossar did live interviews with performers, as if this were the Oscars or the Emmys. And when the cameras focused on the audience and people saw themselves on screen, they whooped as if they were on the Esplanade or at a Red Sox game. It was a memorable evening; the Ballet could hardly have done a better job of presenting itself to Boston.