Now that it has reached its 50th birthday, Boston Ballet is intent on raising its profile. The 56-member troupe visited London last summer and plays New York until Sunday – both for the first time in three decades. From the looks of its first, more novel programme, the company is indeed ready for a larger public.
The night could not have begun better. Made for the National Ballet of Canada in 1991, The Second Detail is William Forsythe at his most translucently neoclassical. The rigorous, sunny ensemble piece is about classical steps, which it stretches to the limit. If Twyla Tharp’s groundbreaking Deuce Coupe for Forsythe’s alma mater, the Joffrey, had a lone woman working through the ballet alphabet while everyone else was doing the frug, The Second Detail finds social dance’s swinging rhythms in the alphabet itself. But it takes its time getting there, delighting first in ballet’s curlicuing course through the body.
The “detail” in the title reflects how one detachment of dancers derails another, as in a surprise attack, but also elaborates the first squadron’s moves. The Second Detail’s logic startles; the ballet is both transparent and spectacular. In its pristine extremity, it exposes the dancers’ every strength and weakness, particularly the women’s (with the extraordinary Kathleen Breen Combes possessing only virtues). Forsythe’s exceptionally independent women sustain long unaided balances before relenting to a fury of steps. Boston’s cadre perched on pointe, free leg splayed, with majestic aplomb.
José Martinez’s North American debut may be called Resonance, but it had little. In tweaking all manner of styles, however, the head of Spain’s National Dance Company does prove Boston Ballet well-rounded up and down the ranks.
Ballet troupes might do with a little less eclecticism, actually. It is one thing to stretch classical conventions like taffy, as in Forsythe, and quite another to jettison them. Swede Alexander Ekman, a global presence at age 30, does belong to a school – the same self-consciously theatrical academy that boasts Israeli Ohad Naharin and fellow Swede Mats Ek. And Ekman’s Cacti deployed its effects brilliantly, reducing the audience to helpless guffaws. But I’m not convinced that a ballet company has anything to bring to this earthy, angular, voluble domain, or gains much by annexing it.