So I went to see this on Wednesday and really enjoyed it. The program I saw consisted of two Balanchine (Serenade and Symphony in Three Movements), one by Jorma Elo (Plan to B), and then Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun.
I went into this feeling fairly apprehensive about the Balanchine pieces, because I’ve seen a few things by him before and really didn’t like them. I had thought that his choreography just didn’t suit my tastes – the types of ballets I like best are story ballets, preferably evening-length, featuring strong acting – so I was surprised to find that I really liked Serenade and liked Symphony in Three Movements even better. I’m not really sure why this was – maybe my tastes have changed, since it’s been several years since I’ve seen any Balanchine, but I doubt it, so maybe it’s just these two are more suited to me than the others I’ve seen. Standout dancers for me were Lia Cirio in Serenade – she’s beautiful and seems so sure of herself – and in Symphony in Three Movements, the delightful Kathleen Breen Combes and Jeffrey Cirio – his ballon is incredible.
I also enjoyed Plan to B. I hadn’t seen anything by Elo before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I liked watching this piece (and I really liked the music), even though I’m not really sure what it all meant—it was certainly very impressive to watch, and it got the loudest reception from the audience. There were times when the dancers were so fast or dynamic I was afraid they’d spin out of control and crash into each other, but of course that’s all part of the piece. Whitney Jensen in particular was excellent – she moved as though the role had been created on her. John Lam also stood out – I love watching him move. He’s a captivating dancer. I saw that he was performing Faun the other nights and I'm curious what his performance would have been like - I'd love to see him in that role.
As for Faun, that was the reason I chose this program over the second one and it was quite an odd experience for me. I know the ballet pretty well because of my interest in Nijinsky – I’ve seen videos and I’m familiar with the set and costumes and way of movement &c. – but I hadn’t seen it live before. Hearing the beginning of the music, with the flute, and sitting there in the darkened auditorium with the curtain down – it could have been 1912 for all I knew. And then having the curtain go up, as it does so gloriously, in concert with the music, and seeing the famous tableau in front of me, only the Faun was really there – the experience was almost too much to take. It was so strange and intense that it was almost over before I could comprehend what was happening.
I wonder if others who have read a lot about a ballet before seeing it have had similar experiences? I imagine it might be different with things like this staging of this ballet – which looked very similar to the original – and classics where things like sets, costumes &c. are regularly modified or redone for different productions. I have thought before that Faun might be uniquely suited to being filmed, since it has that flat aesthetic. But it’s quite something seeing it all in front of you.
I’ve been thinking lately about how ballets stay alive from generation to generation. For this one in particular, I’d love to have seen different performances of it throughout the years – it had the complicating factor of having been performed regularly after Nijinsky’s departure from the Ballets Russes but then having Nijinsky’s notes for the ballet surface, which, from what I can tell (I haven’t seen them myself), do have some changes from the way it was passed down. I remember reading something about him complaining to the papers about the Ballets Russes using his name in promoting the ballet because the way they were doing it was so different to what he had originally intended (this was in I think 1915 or so). I’m not sure what exactly they’d changed, though.
Anyway, for this performance, I enjoyed Altan Dugaraa’s interpretation of the curious, animal-like presence of the Faun. I think you really need that strong presence for this role. There were some odd choices, though: I think the main thing was making some of his movements very sudden and sharp – I read a review that described them as staccato and I think that’s accurate. In my head, the Faun walks like this and laughs like this, but having seen a few versions on video now perhaps this way of moving exists only in the Neumeier ballet.
The nymphs were very good, especially Lorna Feijoo who was perfect as ever. I really liked that the dancers in this piece performed Nijinsky’s choreography with conviction.
Unfortunately, the people sitting next to me did not appreciate it so much – they were making comments about how ‘weird’ it was and even laughing at it during the performance and in the interval. I was horrified – it was so rude.
The only thing that wasn't great in this program for me was one male dancer in particular who was good technically, but who had this blank expression on his face the whole time. I understand that some ballets require a blank face, but I don't think that's what was happening here - there was just no acting or expression happening and it sort of ruined his parts for me. I really can't bear it when dancers have either the blank face or the pasted-on smile - true, not every role requires a dancer to act his heart out, but there at least needs to be an expression appropriate to the role.
All in all, though, I really enjoyed the evening and it was great to see Boston Ballet again, as it’s been several years now. They’ve gotten great reviews so far, which I’m pleased to see. As I mentioned, I’m disappointed I’m missing Yury Yanowsky, since I particularly remember his dancing from my time in Boston, but he’s only in the second program, unfortunately.
I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts if anyone else went or is going to their performances here.