December 19 - 26, 1 9 9 6
[Arts 1996]
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Performances that moved us

Arabian nights

With its Bournonville choreography, Abdallah can be a little perplexing -- seemingly all detail and no drama. But we're lucky to have it at all: Boston Ballet artistic director Bruce Marks and his wife, the late Toni Lander, rescued and reconstructed it after it had disappeared. And the company made it work, with dynamite performances from, among others, Pollyana Ribeiro (making Bournonville's difficult steps look easy), Patrick Armand (kaleidoscopic of mood), Kyra Strasberg (hot hot hot), and Emily Gresh (her slave girl grew more dangerous by the minute).

Speaking in tongues

Paul Taylor is a satirist, a social commentator, and a humorist all rolled into one; and his dances are beautiful, windswept affairs simultaneously touched by light and bathed in shadow. The highlight of his company's BankBoston Celebrity Series appearance this year was the almost-hour-long Speaking in Tongues, a lovely, shattering work that depicts both the danger and the safety of blind faith, and the risks and rewards of exposing the private to the outside world.

Calling all Celts

Boston Ballet's "Hot & Cool" got hotter as the evening progressed, culminating in Lila York's Celts, which drew on the rich heritage of the Celtic peoples, in particular the music of the Chieftains and the florid footwork of Irish stepdancing -- which Robert Wallace made look as natural as walking. The finale, to the pounding 4/4 of Dan Ar Braz's `The Broken Prayer," exploded; so did the audience. Pass the Guinness.

Beauty pageant

For confirmed balletomanes, The Sleeping Beauty is dance nirvana, and Boston Ballet delivered, especially in the stupendous partnering of husband-and-wife team Viktor Plotnikov and Larissa Ponomarenko, and the maternal and sexy Lilac Fairy of Kyra Strasberg. Not everything about the production was ideal, but overall it compared favorably with the recent Kirov Ballet video. Maybe we should send this Sleeping Beauty to St. Petersburg.

[Elizabeth Streb]

No holds barred

The dancers of Elizabeth Streb's Streb/Ringside hurl themselves against walls and floors and one another, blasting muscle into wood, crunching limb against limb. And in the company's Dance Umbrella appearance at the Emerson Majestic, Streb blended acrobatics with concept to produce kinesthetically assaultive works that pared dance down to the bone to expose the forces, and the time and space requirements, of movement.

The unbearable lightness of being

It's hard to believe when you consider that partner Arnie Zane died of AIDS and he himself is HIV-positive, but Bill T. Jones's work continues to display optimism and a purity of vision. His company's Dance Umbrella program at the Emerson Majestic [Bill T. Jones] reflected the many concerns of this incredibly articulate and passionate individual, from the glorious, generous Sur La Place to the gleefully manic world of Ursonate. If Jones can see the light, surely we can bask in it too.


Genius has its drawbacks: if you don't do Balanchine just right, you can look as if you had two left feet. So kudos to James Reardon's fledgling Boston Dance Company for bringing off an evening of Mr. B: Raymonda Variations, Bugaku, and Walpurgisnacht Ballet. It didn't hurt that Reardon was able to call on former New York City Ballet stars Maria Calegari, Deborah Wingert, and Marisa Cerveris (with Bart Cook to stage Bugaku), or borrow Olivier Wecxsteen from Boston Ballet. The company itself has a ways to go, but if it continues to stage Balanchine at this level, it will always be welcome.

Dark Passage

Not that it wasn't good to see Paul Taylor's Company B and Elisa Monte's VII for VIII again, but the highlight of Boston Ballet's "Boogie, Brass & Blue" was the premiere of Daniel Pelzig's Passage. Set to kicky, sensuous medieval music from an Empire Brass CD, the piece wove its way through a thicket of tall poles to a mesmerizing celebration by 14 women swaying seductively but reverently in tight pewter bodices and long brown skirts, and then to a series of troubling spiritual investigations. The poles were so perplexing it was almost a disappointment when they didn't return. Still, expect to see this one back on stage real soon.

Lean cuisine

The economics of touring being what they are, American Ballet Theatre hadn't visited Boston since the Mikhail Baryshnikov/Gelsey Kirkland era. This year the company finally returned for a stripped-down three days of Balanchine's Theme and Variations, Lar Lubovitch's A Brahms Symphony, and highlights from The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and Don Quixote. Not exactly the fabulous fare of the good old days. Still, Julie Kent was a superb Odette, Paloma Herrera and Susan Jaffe shone in their solos, and Theme and Variations was as magical as ever -- though it made one wonder whether Boston Ballet wouldn't do it even better.

Butoh and Bali

It's hard to imagine two more contrasting dance forms than Japanese butoh and the traditional music and dance of Bali, but both make spectacle out of suppressed passion, of keeping emotions inside rather than pouring them out. We got them in rapid succession, first Gamelan Galak Tika at MIT's Kresge Auditorium, then the high-intensity butoh of Sankai Juku at the Wang Center. Proof that once you step outside the conventions of ballet and modern dance, you gain a brand new range of expressive choices.

-- Jeffrey Gantz, Janine Parker, Marcia B. Siegel, and Thea Singer

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