LONDON — Buoyed by the largely favorable reviews it received for the first program it presented at the Coliseum on its London tour, Boston Ballet moved into high gear Friday for the trio of contemporary works on its second bill: William Forsythe’s “The Second Detail” (1991), Christopher Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia” (2001), and Jirí Kylián’s “Bella Figura” (1995).
The 14 dancers in “The Second Detail” were tough street kids in a piece that’s a cross between a gang war and a 1950s sock hop. Seven men and six women look around for possible partners as, in fits and starts, they leave their chairs at the back of the stage to come forward and strut their stuff to Thom Willems’s industrial-strength score. Dusty Button and Patrick Yocum started it off with an eye-catching spotlight dance; Misa Kuranaga introduced herself to Isaac Akiba by knocking him over in the middle of his solo. Kathleen Breen Combes and Bo Busby had been eyeing one another for some time before they hooked up and he snapped her into an overhead upside-down split. Whitney Jensen was luscious as the unattainable blonde bombshell; Joseph Gatti put himself out in front of the ladies but got no takers and stalked off in disgust. As the 14th dancer, who toward the end enters wearing a white Issey Miyake dress that looks like a sheet she’s grabbed and tied around her, Lorna Feijóo threw a fit, as if she hadn’t got a date and was threatening Carrie-like retribution. Her classmates were unfazed, continuing with Forsythe’s funky version of the stroll. When Feijóo finally subsided and lay down, it was Jeffrey Cirio who walked up to the small THE sign on the floor stage front and tipped it over with his foot, too cool to more than glance at the audience.
At the Coliseum, “The Second Detail” wasn’t as confrontational as it is in Boston. Willems’s score didn’t seem as loud. And the deeper stage made the piece read as less claustrophobic.
“Polyphonia” might not have been my choice for the middle work on the program. To me, this neoclassical piece set to piano compositions by György Ligeti still looks like Balanchine-lite. Bradley Schlagheck was a courtly partner for Ashley Ellis in the slow, hypnotic “Wedding Dance II: Quickly Come Here Pretty,” and she spun out her subsequent solo beautifully. Dancing to “Musica Ricercata III,” Adiarys Almeida and Jeffrey Cirio zipped about with panache. But in their two big duets, Lia Cirio and Lasha Khozashvili seemed merely gymnastic. And the piece didn’t show the company doing anything it hadn’t already done better in “The Second Detail” and in its performances, Wednesday and Thursday, of George Balanchine’s “Symphony in Three Movements.” Boston Ballet’s principal pianist, Freda Locker, was stellar as always; I was surprised she didn’t join the dancers in their curtain call.
Set mostly to Baroque music, “Bella Figura” is another of Kylián’s quirky riffs on sexual politics. In Boston, when the audience came back from intermission to see this piece, it would find the curtain already raised and the dancers warming up onstage in silence, with a pair of nude mannequins in transparent coffins hanging overhead. At the Coliseum, the curtain didn’t rise till everyone was seated, so there was no mystery about the beginning.
What followed, however, was not only mysterious but also sublime. A topless Rie Ichikawa tried to extract herself from the folds of a black curtain while Sabi Varga, on the other side of the stage, seemed to be imprisoned upside down in a box. Yury Yanowsky walked Dalay Parrondo as if she were a dog, and then they traded places. The nine dancers, all topless in bright red puffy skirts, wafted chastely but sensuously to a Giuseppe Torelli siciliana. Breen Combes and Ichikawa then brought a palpable tenderness to the centerpiece of “Bella Figura,” a slow semi-nude duet, to the Lento of Lukas Foss’s “Salomon Rossi Suite,” in which they knelt and engaged in a back-and-forth of almost touching each other and writhing in ecstasy before rising and removing the skirts. Kees Tjebbes’s lighting seemed darker than it had been in Boston, and the deeper stage made the piece less intimate. But the company’s command of Kylián’s idiom was never in doubt, and the performance drew a standing ovation.Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.