Boston Ballet’s outstanding current production, “rEVOLUTION,” lives up to the title. George Balanchine’s “Agon,” to the Igor Stravinsky score, was recognized as a revolutionary masterpiece when New York City Ballet premiered it in 1957. Jerome Robbins’s 1983 “Glass Pieces” is a revelation in its own way, and William Forsythe’s 1987 “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated” evolves out of both Balanchine and Robbins. The program is riveting from start to finish, and so, on Thursday night, was the company’s performance.
Balanchine and Stravinsky collaborated on “Agon,” developing the music and the choreography in concert, so that each form illuminates the other. The title is the Greek word for “contest,” Stravinsky having in mind the “agon” between Aeschylus and Euripides in Aristophanes’s “Frogs” but also perhaps the rhythms of T.S. Eliot’s “Sweeney Agonistes.” The 25-minute score is a set of 14 dances inspired by French Renaissance forms but atomized into alarums and excursions as Stravinsky dips his toe into 12-tone serialism. The 12 performers — four women and eight men in black and white rehearsal clothes — refract those court dances through Pointillism, Cubism, the Jazz Age, Broadway, moving in unison or canon or forming mirror images, each to his or her own beat — what Balanchine called “symmetrical asymmetry.” It’s colloquial versus classical, black versus white, men versus women. And one versus two when it comes to the men and women. Toward the end there are two girls for every boy, but when the women run off, the men seem to have lost rather than won.
Boston Ballet’s one previous presentation of “Agon” was in 1991. Thursday’s performance balanced precision against panache. As the solo man in the first pas de trois, an energetic Derek Dunn seemed to encapsulate the history of dance. Ji Young Chae, as his counterpart in the second pas de trois, sashayed through her solo’s castanet-accompanied pointe work with astonishing ease. The pas de deux from Lia Cirio and Paulo Arrais was sinuously acrobatic; it could have been more sexually suggestive. But kudos to the company — and the Boston Ballet Orchestra under Mischa Santora — for conveying the humor in this work.
“Glass Pieces,” which the company first did in 2018, amounts to a four-movement symphony (the last two movements run together) set to Philip Glass: “Rubric” and “Façades” from “Glassworks” and the funeral music from “Akhnaten.” Its heart is the slow, soprano-sax-saturated pas de deux to “Façades”; on Thursday Addie Tapp and Patrick Yocum were austere and inscrutable, their frieze-like movement seeming to anticipate the “Egyptian” music to follow. And yet it’s hard to take your eye off the silhouetted backdrop of women shuffling across the stage, their simple, hypnotic steps reminiscent of the finale of Robbins’s “Antique Epigraphs.”
The ballet opens, against a gridlike back wall, with dancers in street clothes striding purposefully like Manhattan pedestrians. Three couples in tights and leotards parachute in, as if they’d been airlifted by Terpsichore; eventually the pedestrians pick up the couples’ dance moves. Then, to the “Akhnaten” excerpt, there’s a scherzo for the men’s hunter gang before the women join them for the joyful whirligig of a finale.
“In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” which Boston Ballet last did in 2005, takes place on what could be an asphalt playground at night. Set to a kinetic, eardrum-tingling score by Dutch composer Thom Willems, Forsythe’s ballet has as its single prop a tiny cluster of gold cherries hanging in the middle, of course, but elevated just out of reach. His nine dancers, dressed in green shirts and green tights (the three men) or green leotards and black tights (the six women), take their frustration out on one another, the extremity of their athletic extensions recalling “Agon,” their hip face-offs suggesting X-rated Robbins.
Thursday night Chae and Viktorina Kapitonova were the two women after the same guy — Tigran Mkrtchyan — while the other six dancers preened and strutted their stuff and occasionally hooked up. Mkrtchyan partnered Chae at the beginning and end, Kapitonova in the middle; basilisk stares were exchanged and the end found Kapitonova lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce. Mkrtchyan was ruggedly solid but it was Chae and Kapitonova, both explosive, who brought the evening to a revolutionary close.
“Agon,” by George Balanchine; “Glass Pieces,” by Jerome Robbins; “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” by William Forsythe. Presented by Boston Ballet. At Citizens Bank Opera House, through March 8. Tickets $37-$189. 617-695-6955, www.bostonballet.org
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.