Those who lament sluggishness in contemporary stagings of Balanchine’s ballets — and those who are responsible for it — should have seen and learnt from Boston Ballet last week. Forget the funereal tempi we, in the old world, are forced to accept because of the killjoy aesthetics favoured by artistically challenged ballet directors and teachers. Boston Ballet’s Serenade had all one would wish for: quick, sparkling tempi, a splendid use of the space, majestic flow and gusto galore. It’s true that precision might have gone astray now and then, but never in a major way; besides, real artistry has always had little to do with precision.
What I particularly enjoyed was the way the brilliant dancing highlighted in full the subtle nuances and shadings that underscore the ballet. The carefully balanced mixture of joy and impending doom — there are references to the Angel of Death, and the final image is of a flight towards a better world — came fully to the fore, eliciting a well-deserved thunderous ovation at the end.
The same could be said of the other Balanchine work on the same programme, the intriguing Symphony in Three Movements. Set to Stravinsky’s infectious music, this work stands out for a number of not exactly balletic ideas entwined in a movement vocabulary that mixes successfully sport, athletics and classical dance. The result is pleasantly exhilarating, even though there are strokes of agony and competitive tension tucked behind its ‘funny’ side. Here, too, the fizzy artistry of the company worked like a charm, in the same way it had worked earlier on in Plan to B — a superb, fast-paced and visually mesmerising creation by Jorma Elo that I hope to see again very soon.
I wish I were equally enthusiastic about the staging of Nijinsky’s celebrated 1912 Après-midi d’un Faune — retitled here Afternoon of a Faun, which is a tad misleading, as the English title traditionally indicates the splendid modern ballet reading that Jerome Robbins created in 1953. In my view, what survives of Nijinsky’s choreography has long lost its theatrical raison d’être and is mainly like a mothball-scented, over-revered relic from a much-idealised past. Its once scandalous eroticism is rather tame-looking these days, and the whole novelty of the profile movements, exceptionally ground-breaking in 1912, has long lost its bite, historical significance notwithstanding.
The problem is also that to look theatrically viable, the ballet requires two charismatic interpreters, which, I am afraid, neither Altan Dugaraa, nor Lorna Feijoó were. The staging, too, by the former Paris Opera Ballet star Ghislaine Thesmar, looked odd at times and not especially in line with what, through time, has become a well-established performance tradition. For example, more care needs to be taken so far as the proximity of the two interpreters is concerned; had the original nymph knelt so close to Nijinsky’s crotch, the scandal would have been ten times bigger!
I also wish my enthusiasm extended to the second programme that Boston Ballet performed a few nights later. To join three modern ballet blockbusters such as William Forsythe’s The Second Detail, Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia and Jirí Kylián’s Bella Figura was not a good move, for it did not provide the vibrant game of choreographic contrasts that the first programme relied on. The styles could not have been more different, however, and each provided the various artists with a different challenge. Yet each of the three works is a heavy-duty one, and the weight of such artistic cluster quickly became a touch unbearable. Still, this programme, too, was a great success.