Review: Boston Ballet opens 59th Season with 'My Obsession'

by Iris Fanger

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday October 11, 2022

A scene from the ballet "DEVIL's/eye"
A scene from the ballet "DEVIL's/eye"  (Source:Liza Voli)

The Boston Ballet opened its 59th season last weekend with a mixed bill that spanned almost 100 years —a bit of history, a modern erotic but delicate pas de deux, and a rouser of an ending that's intended to blend ballet with Las Vegas chic, complete with hot pink and neon green lighting. However, any program that features two works by George Balanchine, both splendidly performed, is certain to be cherished.

The Balanchine ballets — "Apollo" (premiered in 1928 for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes) is set to music by Igor Stravinsky, the first actual collaboration between the two exiles from Russia who would become seminal artists of the 20th century, and "Allegro Brilliant," (created in 1956), a fluff of a dance piece that covers nearly "all I know of classic ballet in 13 minutes," as the choreographer once said — could not differ more from each other. Although "Apollo" does not have a storyline, it is a character piece, presenting the young Apollo as the god of song and dance. "Allegro Brillante," set to the first movement of the unfinished "Piano Concerto No. 3" by Peter Tchaikovsky (Balanchine's fellow countryman and other than Stravinsky, the composer most associated with Balanchine), is pure dancing for the sake of the movement performed by one lead couple and four couples who support them.

As seen in the performance on Friday night, the Balanchine ballets featured two memorable principal dancers in the leading roles: Chyrstyn Fentroy as the ballerina in pink in "Allegro," and Jeffrey Cirio in "Apollo," newly returned to Boston after a hiatus of some years to dance with American Ballet Theatre and English National Ballet. The ballerina in "Allegro" is a woman to be adored, as only Balanchine could do it, and Fentroy did not disappoint. She whirled though the fast piling on of turns, including one brief moment when her partner, Patrick Yocum, threw her in the air to complete a horizontal, full body revolve so quickly that I thought I might have dreamed it.

A scene from "Apollo"
A scene from "Apollo"  (Source: Boston Ballet)

Cirio who left the BB as a young, feisty performer, has grown in stature to take the stage as Apollo, especially in his majestic solo after the trio of Muses, each in turn, introduces herself in gesture, dance and facial expressions — Abigail Merlis as Calliope (poetry), Chisako Oga as Polyhymnia (mime), and Ji Young Chae as Terpsichore (song and dance). Of course, it is Terpsichore who most engages the god. Their acrobatic, yet symbolic duet is one of the glories of 20th century ballet, etched in memorable poses, including the touching of finger to finger, ala Michelangelo's image on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Helen Pickett's "Tsukiyo" (music by Arvo Part), based on an ancient Japanese folk tale, was given its world premiere by the Boston Ballet in 2009. The stage is dark, with a fog of steam rolling off the stage onto the heads of the musicians of the Boston Ballet orchestra in the pit. As if the world had just begun, a girl ( a ravishing Viktorina Kapitonova) steps out of the moon while a young man (Daniel Rubin) watches. They find each other and in ever mounting excitement explore each other's bodies but then depart alone. I was reminded of the story of Adam and Eve, without the serpent.

Particularly surprising but impressive was the pairing of Kapitonova, a principal dancer, with Rubin, a member of the corps de ballet, who just joined the company this season. The orchestra, led by Mischa Santora, was enhanced by the expert piano performances for "Allegro" and "Tsukiyo" by Alex Foaksman, principal piano soloist for the troupe.

To be sure, there's a ballet that could be set to the music by The Rolling Stones, but I'm not convinced that choreographer (and costume designer), Stephen Galloway has found it. His March 2022 , 30-minute piece, DEVIL's/eye, arranged to five songs by the popular group, is filled with gyrating bodies, stretched out limbs, a lot of darkness and, unfortunately repetitive choreography, brought back throughout the work in unison. The ballet starts and ends in the same place, with a similar tone and imagery, the dancers sometimes in duets and trios, other times in larger groups, in movements borrowed from club dancing, although the women are on pointe. The only surprise is the varied lighting in the backdrop, large circles on a stage wall that might be a crossword puzzle, edged by bands of hot pink and neon green, flashing on and off in irregular patterns (lighting design by Brandon Stirling Baker). Other than principal, Ji Yong Chae, and soloist, Haley Schwan, the energized cast is drawn from the corps de ballet, but it was hard to get a good look at them as individuals. "My Obsession" continues at the Opera House on Washington Street through October 16.

Galloway danced as a member of Ballet Frankfurt, where he met William Forsythe who became the company director. Next up on the BB schedule is "As Anticipated," a program of three works by Forsythe, now based in the United States, on November 3-13.

For more on the Boston Ballet, visit the Boston Ballet website.