Ballet galas are, by their very definition, crowd pleasers. Pyrotechnics and even shocking turns of phrase abound. How refreshing, then, to attend the Boston Ballet's Gala last night at the Wang Theatre and witness some true works of art -- dances performed with subtlety and panache, musicality and heart.
Granted, not all 15 works on the program -- ranging from Rostislav Zakharova's acrobatic "Gopak," a 90-second solo from "Taras Bulba," to Michel Fokine's tremulous "Dying Swan" to Jorma Elo's renegade "Carmen" -- hit the jackpot. How could any dance troupe do that? The dancers performing excerpts from George Balanchine's valentine to New York City, "Who Cares," with music by George Gershwin, for example, just weren't robust enough to fill the stage -- except for long-limbed Melanie Atkins, whose now-spritely, now-crisp nonchalance could resonate in a football stadium. And Tina leBlanc and Gonzalo Garcia, principal dancers with the San Francisco Ballet, in Jerome Robbins's "Other Dances," to Chopin, too often appeared stiff rather than inspired.
But the number of less-than-luminescent pieces paled next to the those that lit up the stage.
Chief among them was Robbins's "Suite of Dances," to selected movements from Bach's suites for solo cello, which were performed, impeccably, by Wendy Sutter onstage. The dance is at turns an offhand and in-your-face conversation between the dancer, Damian Woetzel of the New York City Ballet, and Sutter -- or more precisely, her instrument. Woetzel, clad in loose red, his long hair bouncing, is a jokester and a heart-breaker at once, luxuriating in that place where music meets movement head-on as he jitters, jigs, and stomps his way around the stage.
Edward Stierle's "Lacrymosa," a study in the journey toward death, is -- in the hands of Jared Redick -- at once a requiem and a celebration. Redick is simultaneously as strong as steel and as gentle as a lullaby, pushing into a shoulder stand, reaching with arms that culminate in prayer, pushing through his metatarsals until he reaches his full height.
Larissa Ponomarenko and Nelson Madrigal in the Pas de Deux from Rudolf Nureyev's "Don Quixote," to Ludwig Minkus' music arranged by John Lanchbery, are elegant and starched, imbuing the choreography with both lushness and power. And Romi Beppu and Yury Yanowsky, in William Forsythe's "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated," to Thom Willems's clanging, thrumming score, are as hard-edged and contortionistic, as erotic and driven-from-the-core, as accomplished modern dancers.
Kudos to the dancers of the Boston Ballet, as well as to Mikko Nissinen as their artistic director, for slipping slip inside the phrases of contemporary idioms as well as classical ones with such ease and exuberance.