Anthony (Tony) Williams has been a mainstay of the Boston dance scene for decades, most notably as a beloved teacher and the creator of “Urban Nutcracker.” Williams’s new company, City Ballet of Boston, made its debut at Boston Center for the Arts over the weekend with “Souvenir,” a lively, well-paced program that illustrated Williams’s goal to combine artistic excellence with diversity. The mixed repertory program is one of three productions (including “Urban Nutcracker”) the company is planning for its inaugural season.
As a recorded welcome preceding Saturday’s matinee suggested, the concert was a blend of “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” Gerald Arpino’s “borrowed” “Birthday Variations,” set by Nicole Duffy Robertson, provided the best showcase for Williams’s 16 dancers. All are accomplished individually but have yet to fully cohere as an ensemble, with some rocky partnering and a lack of precision. However, Arpino’s vivid classical variations set to music by Verdi gave each a chance to shine in solo moments and duets. Ruth Bronwen Whitney stood out in a coquettish solo of breezy turns and brisk footwork, as well as in a charmingly sweet duet with Vincent Brewer.
Williams’s “Ephemera” beautifully evoked the memories of an aging dancer revisiting her youth, convincingly portrayed by Kseniya Melyukhina, a dancer well in her prime. Her contemplative solo highlighted exquisitely expressive arms, a supple torso, and fleet feet with crisp articulation and lightly skimming bourrées. Williams’s “Autumn Leaves” was the program’s “new.” Danced to a soulful rendition of the title tune, it portrayed shifting romantic alliances between two men and a woman, but there wasn’t enough choreographic interest in this subdued trio to make up for a lack of emotional power.
Gianni Di Marco’s “Cuban Overture,” set to Gershwin’s Latin-influenced music, was a fairly routine classical sextet. However, it was enlivened by criss-crossing floor patterns, imaginative lifts with breathy extensions, and jazzy inflections — a hip swivel here, a jaunty kick there.
For a concert by a ballet company, the most gratifying surprise was “Dances of Isadora,” a sextet of pieces by dance pioneer Isadora Duncan staged by Ellen O’Reilly Jonas. How refreshing to see barefoot women in flowing costumes dancing movement of lush, unabashed lyricism to Romantic waltzes and mazurkas by Chopin, Brahms, Schubert, and Strauss. Dances unspooled in patterns that circled and spiraled, characterized by deep balancés, sweeping turns, and fluid arms. Taryn Scott Kolbe’s solo swirled with a palpable sense of suspension and release. The dancers aren’t yet steeped in Duncan’s style and spirit, so radical in its day, and could have been more attentive to musical timing. However, that could grow in time, and hopefully City Ballet of Boston is just beginning a very long run.
City Ballet of Boston
At Boston Center for the Arts Virginia Wimberly Theatre, Saturday afternoon
Karen Campbell can be reached at email@example.com.