Jerome Robbins was only 25 when he choreographed his first, most famous ballet, “Fancy Free.” A rousing choreographic tale of three young sailors on shore leave, the ballet sported a jazzy original score by a young, relatively unknown composer named Leonard Bernstein, marking the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Boston Ballet’s company premiere of the 1944 ballet is the centerpiece of the current season-ending program, and it’s a terrific addition to the repertory, full of comic flair and brilliant choreography. The three sailors literally sail onto the sidewalk outside a sleepy Manhattan bar, cartwheeling into soaring leap kicks before settling into rambunctious jostling and macho posturing. Through deftly integrated mime and dance movement, Robbins’s playful ballet gradually develops vivid choreographic portraits of the three men.
One by one, they vie to impress three women who chance by. As the cocky little show-off, Isaac Akiba nails the flamboyant solo with that spectacular iconic side-split leap off the bar. Eye-popping tours en l’air spin into full splits down to the floor. Barrel turns careen, accented by “look-at-me” slaps to the knees. Paul Craig emerges as the gentle, affable boy next door with a winning smile and a loose-limbed casualness to gliding turns and slides across the floor. In the role Robbins himself debuted, James Whiteside shows Latin flair and swagger, with swiveling hips and wiggling eyebrows. He beautifully partners Kathleen Breen Combes, whose sultry veneer hides a heart of demure shyness, eyes flashing one minute, head dipping modestly the next. She is sensational in high swinging lifts, her long legs slicing great arcs through the air.
The program opens with another company premiere, Peter Martins’s 1988 “Barber Violin Concerto.” It begins as a study in stylistic contrast between two couples. Lia Cirio and Pavel Gurevich are all classical elegance and lyrical sweep. He springs into buoyant leaps and she displays pristine pointe work, floating ports de bras and crisp pirouettes. Sylvia Deaton and a bare-chested Yury Yanowsky are the contemporary pair, moving with a lower center of gravity, their bare feet hugging the floor, torsos sinuous, arms coiling, hands flexed.
When the couples switch it up, the movement often seems labored and contrived, with some awkward partnering. But the final scherzo is cute, with Deaton a saucy sprite dancing circles around a staid Gurevich. In the end, however, the ballet seems like the seed of a compelling idea that doesn’t fully blossom. Lydia Hong is the excellent violin soloist.
Rounding out the program is Danish dancer/choreographer Harald Lander’s “Études,” which traces an arc from the isolated positions and steps of classical training into the fluid phrases of choreography. After Dalay Parrondo demonstrates ballet’s five rudimental positions, stark light casts focus on two dozen shapely legs in the crisp tendus and machine-like battements of a ballet barre. Gradually, these elemental components feed into longer combinations, at times flooding the stage with unison and layered movement.
Clocking in at over 40 minutes, the work could use some judicious pruning. The ponderous score by Carl Czerny too often mires it in “study” mode. The lack of subtlety also makes discrepancies of ensemble timing and position glaring. But it must be fiendishly taxing to perform, like a rigorous technique class on warp drive, and overall, it showcases the technical strength of a huge cast of dancers. After a while, however, it feels like shallow virtuosity, as dancers unspool one flashy combination after the next. Jeffrey Cirio and Paulo Arrais take dazzling star turns, but it is Parrondo whose solo moments highlight not just brilliant technique but fully developed choreography and expressive intent.
Karen Campbell can be reached at email@example.com.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this review misidentified the dancer who demonstrated ballet positions at the beginning of ‘‘Études.’’ She was Dalay Parrondo.