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dance review: Boston Ballet Hits ...Grand Slam... Into the Stands Four Short Pieces Were Thrilling and Evocative, ...Plan to B... Especially Explosive

By Natania Antler

Grand Slam

Boston Ballet

The Wang Theatre

March 16 - 26, 2006

Boston Ballet certainly did hit a “Grand Slam” with their program of the same name last weekend. For this offering of the spring lineup, they performed four short choreographic works, two of them world premieres.

The first piece was called “Etesian,” which means summer winds over the Mediterranean. Although the costuming and lighting certainly evoked feelings of summer, it reminded me more strongly of the feeling of dancing alone in one’s room. Choreographed by Helen Pickett, the piece was set to the music of Bach and Beethoven, with strategically placed silent spots. The piece opened with silence, unusual and quite powerful. Some of the lifts and intertwining moves between couples were also especially original — this was a lighthearted piece that got a bit long towards the end, but was refreshingly unique.

The next piece, “Plan to B,” stole the show. This tour de force, choreographed by Jorma Elo, gave one the sense of a Rube Goldberg device consisting of dancers in motion. Each movement had a cause and a distinct effect. The performance, with more steps packed into a short twelve minutes than I care to count, could have been exhausting to watch, but instead it was exhilarating. The dancers pulled off the complex combinations with precision and studied ease.

While some of the crowd-pleasing tricks — including a no-handed flip, and some near-horizontal one-and-a-half-tour jumps — were fun, I was more intrigued by the sustained movement that allowed for one dancer to casually wind another up and set him or her moving off across the stage. In one part Lia Cirio (March 17) moved with her partner in a sequence reminiscent of the wind-up doll dances from “The Nutcracker.” Some acrobatic and light-footed dancing by John Lam (March 17) also was impressive.

“Up and Down,” a world premiere of choreography by Mark Morris, was a radical change in pace from the piece preceding it. This work, set to music from a saxophone quartet, was suggestive of daytime scenes from “The Great Gatsby.” The women’s costumes were well done, but the men’s included unflattering shirts that exposed just enough chest to be distracting. The choreography was low-key, and, to be honest, kind of boring, though I liked the new things Morris did with the dancers’ arms. There was also an interesting dance of four with Karine Seneca (March 17) and three men, but even with that the work didn’t capture my imagination.

I’m often wary of pieces that claim to fuse ballet with some other sort of ethnic dance, as sometimes they can turn out as the worst of both worlds. However, in “Lambarena,” Val Caniparoli did a fine of job of combining traditional African dance and ballet. Unfortunately, in what seemed to be an emerging theme for this show, the women’s costumes were gorgeous, but the men’s costume design was again, really ugly and distracting. Whatever possessed Sandra Woodall to put the men in see-through black baggy shirts with colonial hair ribbons? This also was confusing — what kind of message were the costumes supposed to send, and were the men supposed to be colonial conquerors? On the other hand, the dancing was well done, with some very unique choreography. I especially liked the pas de deux with Kathleen Breen Combes (March 17) and Joel Prouty (March 17). Also, Lorna Feij o (March 17) shined as she led the women in the joyful opening and closing of the dance.

Luckily “Grand Slam” has a two-week run, and is playing through this weekend. Make haste to the theater!