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Boston Ballet takes audiences to a blessed ‘DREAMstate’

Boston Ballet in George Balanchine's "Chaconne."Liza Voll

“DREAMstate” is an appropriate title for the program Boston Ballet opened Thursday at the Citizens Bank Opera House. George Balanchine’s “Chaconne” offers a dream of ballet heaven. Stephen Galloway’s world-premiere “DEVIL’S/eye” takes us for a Rolling Stones–saturated infernal nightwalk, after which Jiří Kylián’s surreal “Bella Figura” explores sexual politics. It’s a well-chosen trio with something for everyone.

“DREAMstate” begins with an orchestral prelude. Michael Torke’s “Javelin” was commissioned by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympics to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 1995. The title looks forward to the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic Games; the music is thoroughly tonal and suggestive of an uplifting film score. It’s nonetheless a fine showpiece for music director Mischa Santora and the Boston Ballet Orchestra; Thursday’s spirited performance was rhythmically pointed and full of textural contrast.


“Chaconne” is set to the ballet music from Gluck’s 1762 opera “Orfeo ed Euridice,” in which Orpheus and Eurydice are reunited at the end. The first section, to the “Dance of the Blessed Spirits,” opens in dance Elysium, as nine women in filmy dresses, their hair unbound, swirl in bliss. The principal man and woman then enter, from opposite sides of the stage, like the hunter and the unicorn from the pas de deux of Balanchine’s “Diamonds.” Lisa Hennessy’s flute solo Thursday was sublime; Paulo Arrais and Ji Young Chae, however, weren’t entirely steady and didn’t find the ideal balance between weight and weightlessness in Balanchine’s soft, airy lifts.

In the divertissements that follow this celestial opening, the women have their hair up; it’s as if Orpheus and Eurydice had returned to earth and were holding court. Gluck’s score can seem repetitive, but Balanchine never runs out of invention. Chisako Oga and Derek Dunn made an exuberant and playful demi-couple, and Arrais and Chae, when they returned to show off for each other and the audience, were visibly more relaxed in the firm pulse of the minuet and the gavotte. The choreography here is fiendishly demanding, but Arrais negotiated his beats and nonstop changes of direction without blurring, and Chae, mercurial and flirtatious, actually seemed to be going in all directions at once.


“DEVIL’S/eye” is Boston Ballet’s second Rolling Stones presentation; the company did Christopher Bruce’s 1991 “Rooster” on two programs back in 2012. Galloway was a principal dancer for 18 years in William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt; for much of that time he was the company’s head costume designer, and he’s also been a costume designer and choreographer for the Stones. “DEVIL’S/eye,” which Boston Ballet commissioned, is danced against an industrial light bank that’s half laundromat and half discotheque, in Galloway-designed costumes heavy on glitter and purple.

Boston Ballet in Stephen Galloway's "DEVIL'S/eye."Liza Voll

Nine men start off “Paint It Black,” whose highlight is a sequence of unison tours à la seconde. “Wild Horses” brings a trio of duets: Oga and John Lam as tenderly mating birds; a slinky, teasing Chyrstyn Fentroy and Tigran Mkrtchyan; an athletic and insinuating Lia Cirio and Patric Palkens. The rest of the score — “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and “Midnight Rambler” — is upbeat, and the dancing is flash, ballet rubbing elbows with blues, rock, and Broadway shimmy as the proceedings evolve into a street party. There’s no narrative, and nothing really sticks; the dancers almost seem to be freestyling as they go midnight rambling, but in the moment it’s hard to argue with all that jubilant energy.


Toward the end of the second intermission, the curtain rises and the dancers can be seen warming up on stage in silence, with a pair of nude mannequins in transparent coffins hanging overhead. That’s how “Bella Figura” begins. To the Lento of Lukas Foss’s “Salomon Rossi Suite,” a bare-breasted Seo Hye Han tries to extract herself from the folds of a black curtain while, on the other side of the stage, Dunn seems to be imprisoned upside down in a box. Paul Craig walks Oga as if she were a dog for a few steps before they trade places. The nine dancers, all topless in bright red puffy skirts, waft chastely but sensuously to a Giuseppe Torelli siciliana. Kylián’s centerpiece is a slow duet to Foss’s Lento in which Han and Haley Schwan, both topless, kneel and engage in a back-and-forth of almost touching each other and writhing in ecstasy. When they rise to their feet and doff their red skirts, they shed a sexual skin and emerge as beautiful bodies.

Boston Ballet hasn’t done “Bella Figura” since 2014, so it’s not surprising that opening night, with a largely new cast, didn’t yet have the full measure of Kylián’s nuances. But this is still the stuff that ballet dreams are made on.


Presented by Boston Ballet. At Citizens Bank Opera House, through March 27. Tickets $39-$164. 617-695-6955,

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at