Boston Ballet, Coliseum, London – review

The Boston Ballet is returned to London after a 30-year absence with two programmes to tell us of its present identity, and with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to deal splendidly with the three major scores in its first offering: Debussy’s L’Après-midi d’un faune for a version of Nijinsky’s still-innovative staging, and Balanchine’s ideal realisations of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings and Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements. Be it said, also, that the lighting of these ballets was magnificent: both John Cuff and Les Dickert illuminated and enhanced choreography and performances, giving them lustre, flattering definition.

The Boston Ballet’s accounts of the Balanchine works, which span four decades and show exactly how prodigious was the choreographer’s Americanisation of the classic dance, were bold, well-disciplined. Serenade had a slightly bullet-train manner – we could not savour some of the passing countryside, so brisk the tempi – but the Stravinsky symphony was done with tremendous verve by the entire troupe. I confess to having fallen more than a little for Kathleen Breen Combes in its middle movement: she is beautiful, elegant, her every action inevitable, the dance generously alert, with a cavalier no less admirable in Paulo Arrais.

About the other offerings, some reserves. Faune is now a no-go area. My sense of its qualities is owed to Diaghilev-era figures: Marie Rambert worked with Nijinsky and staged a fine, commanding revival; Alicia Markova knew it in serious post-Diaghilev restorations. Both told of its hieratic intensity. The Boston account offers merest posturing, weightless and unlikely.

The remaining work is by Boston’s resident choreographer, Jorma Elo. Set to some extremely vivacious, if short-breathed, baroque fiddling by Heinrich von Biber, it proposes that energetically modish scampering that passes for today’s classic manner and is little more than gymnastics with ideas above its station. Two women and four men fling themselves through a series of academic hoops, as if in some desperate display of derring-do, hounded by Biber’s driving measures over a bare stage. The Boston cast is tirelessly eager, resourceful; the choreography is determinedly demanding as cussed steps crowd one after another, and the public shouts in delight. Oh dear! Wrong again, Crisp.

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