The Boston Ballet usually offers enchanting and accomplished dance. Yet, while its current production starts out on a hopeful note with Gerald Arpino’s slight and appealing Suite Saint-Saëns, it is unable to sustain momentum through the headliner, Bruce Wells’ heavily anticipated A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Both shows are strongly choreographed and well-staged dramatically, but Midsummer ultimately disappoints due to an inexperienced cast of dancers unsuited to the material.
Arpino, co-founder of The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, impresses, though, with Suite Saint-Saëns, which sparkles with a playful beauty and shows off a distinctly American spirit. Though the choreography is based in the style of classical ballet, it contains many modern elements and is blessed with a strong athletic theme that lends the piece a delightfully informal air.
Also instrumental in the success of the Sept. 25 show that I attended was the talented cast of dancers. In the first number, “Caprice Valse,” principals Jennifer Gelfand and Paul Thrussell were a thrill to watch; Thrussell’s strength made every lift appear fluid and effortless, and the two genuinely looked like they enjoyed dancing together. Additionally, soloist Tara Hench confidently filled a leading position.
The second number, “Serenade,” the most interesting to a wide audience of the remaining three, is marked by a gorgeous pas de trois, which featured Michael Johnson, April Ball and Josey Silva. Johnson was faced with the difficult task of partnering two women at the same time and was largely successful; matching balances were carried off with few wobbles.
The lighting of Suite Saint-Saëns, originally designed by Thomas Skelton and here recreated by Linda O’Brien, creates an intimate space on the stage that highlights the communal feeling between the dancers as they weave in and out of the principal focus of motion. The show leaves the audience with the memory of a beautiful ballet and excited about the promise of the grand theatrical piece to come.
Unfortunately, A Midsummer Night’s Dream did not live up to the expectations produced by Suite Saint-Saëns. It is not the choreography that misfires, as the dance is interesting and generally innovative, even if certain dances, like Oberon’s variation, seem crammed in, with insufficient motivation and emotion.
The main failing of the show—and it is a big one—is casting. In the rotation of parts, Sept. 25 featured few principal dancers in the showcase roles of the evening, and the lack of quality and polish were very apparent.
A major difficulty throughout the performance were transitions from one variation to the next. Most first turns and jumps appeared shaky; once firmly into the combination, technique improved, but the overall impression became one of rather disconnected groups of steps instead of flowing choreography.