Boston Ballet’s fifth program in its 2020–2021 virtual subscription series, “The Art of Classical Ballet,” could easily have drawn on the company’s performance archives for excerpts from “Swan Lake,” “The Sleeping Beauty,” “Giselle,” and the like. Instead, artistic director Mikko Nissinen has given us a showcase of new performances filmed in the company’s studio, a “mini-gala,” in his words. Along with the usual standards there are excerpts from less familiar ballets such as “Satanella,” “Gayane,” and “Suite en Blanc.” There’s even dancing from Rossini’s “William Tell.” As a refresher course in classical ballet, it’s a well filmed and entertaining hour and a quarter.
The first part of the program spans about a century, from the 1840s to the 1940s. What makes the dancing classical is the technique — everything from a simple tendu to the celebrated sequence of 32 fouettés — that provides the foundation for everything a modern ballet company offers. Yet as the performers here remind us, classical ballet isn’t just an exercise in technique, it’s an art.
“The Art of Classical Ballet” opens, after a brief but thoughtful introduction from Nissinen, with 16 selections — mostly piano-accompanied solos — that whiz by in 40 minutes. As “La Cigarette” from Serge Lifar’s “Suite en Blanc,” Louise Hautefeuille, all slim legs and smoke-coiling arms, points and teases the music, and it’s nice to see those entrechat six at the end. Lawrence Rines and Irlan Silva spoof English horse racing in August Bournonville’s “Jockey Dance”; Patric Palkens is commanding and easy as Franz in “Coppélia”; Addie Tapp’s infernally beautiful développés and chaîné turns conjure the devilish seductress of “Satanella.” As Basilio in “Don Quixote,” Tyson Clark serves up textbook tours à la seconde and double tours landing in arabesque; Lasha Khozashvili’s “Gayane” solo features heroic jumps and sassy footwork. Chisako Oga is fluid in Giselle’s traveling ballonnés; Ji Young Chae executes a fleet, nimble “William Tell” solo and then, with exquisite support from Alex Foaksman’s piano, matches precision and insinuation in Raymonda’s big third-act variation.
The program’s first part ends with the pas de deux from “La Esmeralda.” Having to wear masks does nothing for pas de deux chemistry; all the same, Viktorina Kapitonova and Tigran Mkrtchyan are elegant and aristocratic, and there’s a lot of classical detail to appreciate: the effortless-looking lifts, Mkrtchyan’s crisp tours à la seconde, Kapitonova’s supported turns on pointe in attitude and the mesmerizing snap of her tambourine variation.
You get a chance to catch your breath as Nissinen has an informative 10-minute conversation with the program’s guest rehearsal director, Karin Averty, a former Paris Opera Ballet première danseuse. Then it’s on to the final part of the program, excerpts from Nissinen’s “Swan Lake” accompanied by Boston Ballet Orchestra recordings. The Tall Swans variation, neatly danced by Hautefeuille, Emily Hoff, Ryan Kwasniewski, and Molly Novak, reminds us that the art of classical ballet includes the difficult art of ensemble. Soo Bin Lee floats through Odette’s act-two variation with gossamer sissonnes and delectable phrasing; Chyrstyn Fentroy illuminates the Pas de Cinq with a free, spontaneous solo. Finally we have Lia Cirio and Paulo Arrais in the Black Swan Pas de Deux. Arrais contributes neat double tours in his variation, but this is Odile’s showcase, and a slinky, languorous Cirio does it justice.
“The Art of Classical Ballet” was a project for the entire company; more performances — some in rehearsal clothes — were filmed than could be presented in the program proper. So don’t skip the closing credits, or you’ll miss the “Bonus Dancing” that accompanies them.
THE ART OF CLASSICAL BALLET
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.