Boston Ballet’s 2019-20 season at the Opera House will have something for just about everyone, from beloved classics to a world premiere.
Bookending the season will be a pair of story ballets, “Giselle” and “Swan Lake.” The company’s long-term partnership with William Forsythe will be represented by his “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated” and “Artifact Suite,” as well as works by former Forsythe dancers Helen Pickett and Stephen Galloway. Returning repertoire favorites will include George Balanchine’s “Serenade” and “Agon,” Jerome Robbins’s “Glass Pieces,” Jirí Kylián’s “Bella Figura,” and Boston Ballet resident choreographer Jorma Elo’s “Carmen.” And as always, there’s the company’s enormously popular “Nutcracker.”
Before the season officially opens, however, Boston Ballet will return to Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival for the first time since 2004. “We had a great time last time when we were there,” says the company’s artistic director, Mikko Nissinen, “and we are very much looking forward to coming back.” As of now, the program (Aug. 21-25) is set to include Forsythe’s “Playlist (EP)” (which will debut next month at the Opera House) and the pas de deux from “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” Leonid Yakobson’s “Pas de Quatre” and “Rodin,” and Elo’s “Bach Cello Suites.”
The season proper opens with “Giselle” (Sept. 19-29), which the company hasn’t done since 2009. This time out, Larissa Ponomarenko, former Boston Ballet principal and now a company ballet mistress, will be staging. “There’s been some great ballerinas who have danced the ballet, from [Natalia] Makarova to Maina Gielgud,” says Nissinen, “and then they will do their own staging of the ballet. It’s a role that you go so deep into, and they live with the production throughout their careers. I’m a huge fan of Larissa as a ballerina, and the luckiest guy to have her on our coaching team as a ballet mistress; she’s absolutely incredible. I thought, I would really love to see when she gets to have the say exactly how it is staged. And she jumped at the opportunity.”
After “The Nutcracker” (Nov. 29-Dec. 29), the spring season begins with “rEvolution” (Feb. 27-March 8): “Agon,” “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” and “Glass Pieces.” “Agon,” to the Stravinsky score, is a spiky, demanding duet that the company last presented in 1991. “It’s such a cornerstone of Balanchine’s work,” Nissinen explains, “and such an obvious masterpiece, and I wanted to revisit it. And also, the whole evening is called ‘rEvolution.’ When ‘Agon’ premiered [in 1957], it was pushing the boundaries yet further. ‘In the Middle’ did the same thing at the Paris Opera under Rudolf [Nureyev] when Bill [Forsythe] did the work there, and ‘Glass Pieces’ was also a departure for Mr. Robbins.”
“Glass Pieces” is an encore from Boston Ballet’s September 2018 Robbins celebration, but the company hasn’t done “In the Middle” since 2005. “That was the work that was probably most widely known of Bill’s,” says Nissinen, “and I’m looking forward to seeing these three works next to each other and dancing it better and better. For me it’s always about the quality.”
Following “rEvolution” is a quartet of pieces under the program title “Carmen” (March 12-22): “Carmen,” “Serenade,” and Pickett’s “Tsukiyo” and “Petal.” Set to Rodion Shchedrin’s 45-minute “Carmen Suite,” Elo’s “Carmen” premiered in 2006 and then appeared in 2009 in a revised version. Nissinen says Elo “will take a look at it and probably change things and do it for the company that we have here today.” “Serenade,” Balanchine’s first American ballet, was last seen here in 2013. “Tsukiyo” (“moonlit night”), a duet set to Arvo Pärt, was presented in 2009 and 2011, but “Petal” is a company premiere. Nissinen explains that Pickett “got her professional start as a choreographer with us” and that an early version of “Petal” was shown at the company’s Clarendon Street studio. “I think it’s been one of her most widely traveled works, and I’m happy to bring it to the proper stage in Boston.”
May will bring both “Swan Lake” (May 1-31) and “Off the Charts” (May 8-29), the latter to include the world premiere of Galloway’s “Dance Part 3.” Galloway is not only a former principal in Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt but, since 1997, the Rolling Stones’ creative and movement consultant. “I’ve known him for quite a while,” Nissinen says, “and I really admire his mind — what a smart, creative guy. He’s making a great statement now in the fashion world and commercials, and he’s done choreography, but he’s never done anything in America, so I thought this is the perfect opportunity.”
“Bella Figura,” with its mostly Baroque score and occasionally topless dancers, was last done here in 2014, but “Artifact Suite” is new to Boston Ballet. Nissinen says it’s “quite different” from the parent “Artifact,” which the company did in 2017. “While of course it uses lots of the choreography from ‘Artifact,’ it’s a sensational piece. It’s like this huge locomotion, a dynamic burst of energy. I still remember when I saw it first time at the Paris Opera, it was just phenomenal.”
An earlier version misidentified the dancer in the foreground in the lead photo.