‘Le Corsaire’ and more in Boston Ballet’s 2016-17 season
Boston Ballet has announced its 2016-17 season, whose highlights will include the North American premiere of Ivan Liska’s “Le Corsaire,” the first performance of William Forsythe’s “Artifact” by a North American company, a world premiere by resident choreographer Jorma Elo, and the return of “The Sleeping Beauty.” Spring programs will also offer works by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Jiří Kylián, and Alexander Ekman.
The season will open with “Le Corsaire” (Oct. 27-Nov. 6), which premiered in Paris in 1856. Loosely based on Byron’s poem “The Corsair,” it’s the story of the slave girl Medora and the two men who love her, a Turkish pasha and the pirate Conrad. Boston Ballet presented a version of this ballet, “The Pirate,” in 1997, with choreography by Konstantin Sergeyev.
This time out, the company’s artistic director, Mikko Nissinen, has turned to the version created by Czech choreographer Liska for the Bavarian State Opera Ballet in 2006. “There are so few big classical ballets in existence,” Nissinen points out, “and ‘Corsaire’ of course is one of them.” Liska based his production on Marius Petipa’s final revival of the ballet, from 1899. “All the gentle Petipa art is there,” says Nissinen, “but Liska has expanded the ‘Jardin animé’ with some 30 children in it, and it’s absolutely lovely.” Nissinen considers the work “a wonderful showcase for the artists” and adds that he chose the Liska production because “I find the costumes and the sets absolutely stunning, and it makes a little bit more sense than the other productions I have seen.”
After the company’s annual presentation of “The Nutcracker” (Nov. 25-Dec. 31), the spring season will open with Forsythe’s “Artifact” (Feb. 23-March 5). Boston Ballet will be the first North American company Forsythe has given permission to perform this four-act 1984 work, which is set to a piano score by Eva Crossman-Hecht and the Chaconne from Bach’s Second Violin Partita but also has a spoken text. Nissinen calls “Artifact” “a sensation. It is Forsythe giving us a full-evening treat of exquisite dancing, sensational theater, and a piece of modern art. It is also an epic-scale work, and a huge commitment for Boston Ballet. It’s not entertainment, it’s a great piece of art.”
A repertory trio follows: Balanchine’s “Donizetti Variations,” Kylián’s “Wings of Wax,” and Ekman’s “Cacti” (March 23-April 2). “Wings of Wax,” with its upside-down tree, was presented in 2013, and “Cacti,” with its many title succulents, in 2014. “Donizetti Variations,” which Balanchine created in 1960 to music from the opera “Don Sebastian,” was first performed by Boston Ballet in 1964, when the company made its professional debut at the Boston Arts Festival. Nissinen says, “ ‘Donizetti Variations’ is a lightweight ballet because it’s about dancing, dancing beautifully, beautiful compositions, vignettes that Balanchine did. I wanted to start an evening where we visit Kylián’s ‘Wings of Wax’ and Ekman’s ‘Cacti.’ ‘Cacti’ is a more theatrical work and ‘Wings’ is emotional, more contemporary dance. I wanted to take the audience on a ride to a beautiful, simple neoclassical work and then go in the other direction.”
To end the season, “The Sleeping Beauty” (April 28-May 25) will overlap with a second repertory program (May 5-27): Balanchine’s “Stravinsky Violin Concerto,” Elo’s new piece, and Robbins’s comic “The Concert,” which the company staged last year. “From my conversations with Jorma,” says Nissinen, “it looks like the music is going to be a Bach piano concerto, and he will continue to explore the modern classical realm that he did last year in ‘Bach Cello Suites,’ maybe even more classical.”
“Stravinsky Violin Concerto” is also new to Boston Ballet. Balanchine choreographed the piece as part of New York City Ballet’s 1972 Stravinsky Festival, building on the spiky dissonance and playful lyricism of the composer’s 1931 work. Nissinen calls it “a collaboration of two geniuses, Balanchine and Stravinsky, with a stunning end result. I’ve been waiting for the company to be in the right place to do this work. I love the piece.” He adds that though “Stravinsky Violin Concerto” is a black-and-white ballet, it’s very different from the Balanchine-Stravinsky collaboration “Symphony in Three Movements,” which the company performed in 2011, 2012, and 2013.
As for “The Sleeping Beauty,” Boston Ballet last staged it in 2013, but Nissinen makes no apology for bringing it back. “It’s always a massive undertaking, but we are so lucky with the version we have and the physical production. I could watch it almost every year.”
An earlier version mischaracterized when Boston Ballet performed “Donizetti Variations.”