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The Ballet steps into new scenes

All four works on Boston Ballet's program last night were new to the company, and two were new to everyone else as well.

This was the troupe's first outing in two acknowledged masterpieces: George Balanchine's 1972 "Duo Concertant" and Mark Morris's 1988 "Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes."

The two world premieres -- Jorma Elo's "Plan to B" and Val Caniparoli's "Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion" -- were created for the Boston dancers who, to their great credit, met all the challenges with aplomb.And the challenges were many. All four works are extremely demanding technically, and with no elaborate sets, costumes or plot to camouflage any flaws, the dancers had to be on red alert every second.

Elo, a gifted young Finnish choreographer, used music by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, orchestrated for violin, organist and keyboard, in "Plan to B."The minimalist set has a large, glowing screen at one side of the stage: It feels like a battery constantly recharging the six dancers in this ferocious, full-bodied work. Elo makes extensive use of the torso and hips, which are generally still in ballet. He deliberately makes the dancers look gawky at times, hunched over or snaking their way across stage, but the work's relentless drive overwhelms the intentional awkwardness like a stormy sea crashing over anything in its path.

Caniparoli's "Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion" picks up on the thundering tension of the Bartok score. The dance gets a head start, with dancers pacing and then running before the momentous drum roll kicks in. (It's the flip side of "Duo Concertant," where the two dancers begin by standing behind the pianist and violinist, letting Stravinsky's music establish itself first.) The dozen dancers in Caniparoli's piece wear red; they jump as if the stage were too hot to touch; their duets are battles; their bodies are weapons that skid into each other.

Melanie Atkins and Sabi Varga caught a great many of the nuances in "Duo Concertant," responding to the music played onstage by pianist Freda Locker and violinist Michael Rosenberg.

The Morris piece deserves a doctoral dissertation. Suffice to say it's gorgeous, and it demonstrates once again how easily the choreographer can move between the worlds of ballet and modern dance. As with the Stravinsky, the Virgil Thomson score Morris chose was played onstage -- by Virginia Eskin, who not only made the complex music legible, but looked as elegant and svelte as the dozen dancers in their Santo Loquasto costumes.

On all counts -- the level of dancing and choreography, the intelligence and thought -- this was a sensationally successful evening. And with a relatively small number of dancers and musicians and almost no dcor, it's a portable presentation that might just put Boston Ballet back on the international touring circuit, giving the company the exposure that last night's show proved it has earned.

Drink to Me

Performed by the Boston Ballet

At: the Wang Theatre, last night.

Program repeats, with changing casts, through Sunday.

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