Boston Ballet’s ‘World Passions’; Streb Brave at the ICA
By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  October 28, 2009

PAQUITA: Pino Alosa’s staging emphasizes the way groups can master the most exacting steps and floor patterns as a unified ensemble.

Boston Ballet’s artistic director, Mikko Nissinen, wants us to think of his company as utterly contemporary, but it’s a tricky balance to pull off. Calling the current program at the Opera House “World Passions” promises the end of fuddy-duddyness and the liberation of the Id. But the new production of Paquita, which was first choreographed 150 years ago, shows off the highest, purest possibilities of classical ballet. No need to apologize for that.

Staged by company ballet master Pino Alosa, this Paquita constitutes only the finale and a few other bits from a story ballet by the great 19th-century choreographer Marius Petipa. Dispensing with the standard rickety story line of misalliance, intrigue, and contrived resolution, Alosa takes us right to the Grand Pas, the wedding celebration, after the principal characters have overcome the obstacles thrown in their way by the librettist. In elegant white tutus and tunics, they launch a formal display of dancing, abetted by their friends and admirers.

I don’t know where Alosa learned these spectacular arrangements of soloists and ensemble, but they look authentic. You get maximum design, steps that radiate intelligence, and the assurance that everyone on the stage is an aristocrat, whether or not they were born that way.

This Paquita emphasizes the way groups can master the most exacting steps and floor patterns as a unified ensemble. The corps de ballet echoes the ballerina, a quartet of men peel off giant leaps and multiple turns in unison, four women dance together before reappearing in solos that show off their personalities, a trio leap and intertwine without resorting to tricky lifts, the women of the corps take the spotlight in matched pairs, and throughout we see one group of dancers’ steps reflected in those of another group. Not only are these patterns visually thrilling but they somehow appeal to our longings for order, logic, mastery, completion. To me, that’s the real escape classical ballet offers.

In circumstances of such close harmony, the dancers become truly individual. The audience notices immediately who does the phrase particularly well, or inhabits the steps with joy. Lorna Feijóo gave one of her excruciatingly perfect performances on Thursday night in the Grand Pas de Deux; not a petal of the flower in her hair could have quivered in any direction she hadn’t planned. Her partner, Nelson Madrigal, started his variation brilliantly, but by the last series of jumps and turns his energy seemed to be draining away.

In the Pas de Trois, Erica Cornejo did the steps well, but she didn’t sparkle; I think it’s because she doesn’t use the music to whisk her through space. It was the four secondary women — Melissa Hough, Lia Cirio, Misa Kuranaga, and Kathleen Breen Combes — who seized on their distinctive variations and lit up the stage.

The audience cheered them all, but it screamed louder for Cirio and Sabi Varga as they melodramatically seduced each other in Helen Pickett’s new Tsukiyo. This essay in fake mysteriousness began when Varga gingerly drew open a curtain and stepped into a dark space. Cirio materialized from under some opulent swags of fabric that could have been a throne. Their encounter was brief, conflicted, and above all sensuous. Afterward, she retreated to safety and he looked dazed.

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