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Madam Butterfly

Boston Ballet’s Butterfly Flies

By Bence Olveczky

staff writer

Madame Butterfly

Boston Ballet

Wang Center

May 2-19.

Tickets $25-$78, Student Rush available for $12.50 on hour before curtain time.

On the surface, Boston Ballet’s new production Madame Butterfly is definitely old school. Based on Puccini’s famous opera, it tells a hackneyed story of lost and forbidden love. The music is vintage, the structure of the piece traditional, and the dance moves classical. Sounds like another expensive cultural nap? No, this potentially stale mix turns out to be a surprisingly passionate and poetic production bursting with emotional energy. The man largely responsible for the success is Australian wunderkind Stanton Welch, who, belying his age and experience, has created a remarkably mature and measured choreography.

Welch started dancing at the ripe old age of 17, became a choreographer at 21, and was voted Best New Choreographer by a leading British dance magazine at 23. In 1995, at the age of 26, he made Madame Butterfly his first full-length ballet. Using Puccini’s original narrative and a condensed version of his score, Welch’s Butterfly recounts the tragic story of a young Geisha who falls in love with a U.S. naval officer stationed in Japan. We witness their wedding, her subsequent betrayal by him, and the despair that follows.

Welch capitalizes on the exotic setting to create some stunning visual images, while making most of the overflowing passions the piece offers him. Much of Madame Butterfly’s success is due to the simple yet evocative way in which the dancers tell the story. The choreography triggers the right emotions at the right times with a familiar palette of classical dance moves. But just as the young Picasso mixed and improved on the techniques and styles of the old masters he emulated, so Welch takes what he learned from classical ballet and blends it into a fresh and original production.

Welch has yet to fully master the crowded scenes, but his talent is on generous display in the more intimate passages. Particularly poignant is the impassioned pas de deux on the doomed couple’s wedding night. Adriana Suarez, as the fragile Butterfly, is both literally and metaphorically at the mercy of Simon Ball, who dances the part of Officer Pinkerton. As Ball gracefully juggles Suarez’s seemingly fluid body, Butterfly’s complete submission to her husband becomes achingly apparent, foreshadowing the ensuing tragedy. Both dancers are seasoned veterans of the company and deliver solid performances, but the chemistry between the two needs to be more igniting for the story to be truly heartfelt and believable.

The production is also helped by an inspired stage design. Peter Farmer’s set resembles a traditional Japanese woodcut with shades of fading brown dominating the scenery. Color is added in the form of elaborate samurai costumes and ritual kimonos, and also by a brightly colored American flag that serves as a shrine for the young Geisha as she desperately awaits the return of her husband.

With Madame Butterfly the Boston Ballet has produced an entertaining and engaging evening of good old-fashioned ballet. It may be neither groundbreaking nor exhilarating, but it’s a very solid, professional, and refreshing piece of work that will have its deserved place in the company’s repertory alongside its less satisfying forebears such as Giselle and Nutcracker.