Boston Ballet offers wit and whimsy in its season finale
Boston Ballet’s final production of the 2016-2017 season features a company premiere, George Balanchine’s “Stravinsky Violin Concerto,” and a world premiere by resident choreographer Jorma Elo, “Creatures of Egmont.” Jerome Robbins’s “The Concert,” which Boston Ballet first did in 2015, brings an engaging program to a side-splitting conclusion.
Balanchine originally choreographed Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto in 1941, as a piece called “Balustrade,” but by the time New York City Ballet put on its Stravinsky Festival, in 1972, he had forgotten what he did (“Balustrade” is in fact lost), so he created a new piece. The concerto, which Stravinsky composed in 1931, is unorthodox in structure: Toccata, Aria I, Aria II, Capriccio. Balanchine plays with the music’s dissonances, its shifting meters, its contrapuntal layers, its entrances and exits, its astringent asymmetry, so as to let the dancers play around with their classical technique. In the circusy Toccata, each of the four soloists enjoys a back-up quartet, a kind of cheerleading squad. Friday, Lia Cirio and Lasha Khozashvili took the star route, hardly acknowledging their support. Seo Hye Han and John Lam were more collegial, Han partnering one of her men and Lam leading out a string of pony-stepping ladies.
The Arias were, by contrast, serious. In the first, Cirio and Lam kept entwining and separating, each seeking to run the choreographic show. Cirio finished in a backbend with Lam on the floor; it was hard to say who won. In Aria II, Han nestled submissively against Khozashvili; yet she led throughout and he followed. This duet also ended enigmatically, Khozashvili bending Han back even as he knelt behind her.
High spirits returned in the finale, where the ladies waved at Lam as he (deliberately) came on late and Balanchine spoofed his own daisy-chain choreography. The back-ups eventually paired off and the soloists formed their own quartet, with a brief-lived partner exchange. This was first-rate Balanchine from the company: Soloists and back-ups were excellent throughout, and so was BSO first violinist Jason Horowitz in the solo part.
Like “Stravinsky Violin Concerto,” “Creatures of Egmont” is in four movements, but the music is drawn from four pieces: Beethoven’s “Creatures of Prometheus” Overture; the Sixth of Schumann’s “Six Fugues on the Name B.A.C.H.”; the Fugue from Bach’s Fantasia & Fugue in G minor (BWV 542); and Beethoven’s “Egmont” Overture. Forsaking his usual jittery Cubist displacements, Elo gave us neo-Balanchine with an ensemble of six couples in unison and canon and counterpoint. On its own, his choreography was satisfying, if busy, but in the wake of the Balanchine, it didn’t reflect much more than Beethoven’s humanitarian ideas about Greek Titan Prometheus and Dutch martyr Egmont. The Boston Ballet Orchestra shone under guest conductor David Briskin, though its over-the-top “Egmont,” which would have been dynamic in concert, was distracting in this context.
In “The Concert,” Robbins pays tribute to Chopin while spoofing the titles that have been given to this composer’s pieces. As onstage pianist Freda Locker (who does some spoofing of her own) plays the “Berceuse” and a variety of preludes, mazurkas, and waltzes, an onstage audience of dancers seated on folding chairs assembles. Over the next half-hour, the dancers parody the Fokine ballet “Les Sylphides” (also set to Chopin), a whip-wielding Cossack arrives, and there’s an umbrella number to one of the “Raindrop” preludes. Eventually everyone turns up in antennae and wings, prompting Locker to reach for a butterfly net.
The lead dancers on Friday were Kathleen Breen Combes as an extravagantly starry-eyed and voluptuous Chopin aficionado, Khozashvili (channeling Groucho Marx and Ernie Kovacs) as a stogie-chomping husband with a roving eye, and Dusty Button as Khozashvili’s arch, society-matron wife. But everyone, from nerdy Isaac Akiba to knit-capped Dalay Parrondo, was hilarious. I could watch “The Concert” every night.
“Stravinsky Violin Concerto,” by George Balanchine. “Creatures of Egmont,” by Jorma Elo. “The Concert (or the Perils of Everybody),” by Jerome Robbins. Presented by Boston Ballet. At: Boston Opera House, through May 27. Tickets: $35-$159. 617-695-6955, www.bostonballet.org
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at email@example.com.