One of the most enthralling aspects of Boston Ballet's "Night of Stars" at the Wang Theatre last night was the sheer variety packed into the evening-long event. Large ensemble pieces by Twyla Tharp, Balanchine, and Petipa shared the stage with intimate duets, from classics such as "The Sleeping Beauty" pas de deux to a world premiere by Viktor Plotnikov. That the variety in this gala fund-raiser was complemented by some superb performances was all the more impressive, showcasing acclaimed veterans and rising stars alike.
New York City Ballet principal dancers Maria Kowroski and Albert Evans were the evening's guest artists, performing Christopher Wheeldon's "Liturgy." Set to the haunting music of Arvo Part, the duet had a ritualistic quality to couplings that ranged from starkly sculptural - etching sharp angles against a pale backdrop - to sensuously entwined.
On the other end of the stylistic spectrum, Boston Ballet's own prima donna, Larissa Ponomarenko, was dazzling in "The Sleeping Beauty" pas de deux, from pristine, carefully placed steps and prances to brisk turns that spun into her partner's arms. Roman Rykine's dynamic was decidedly unmuscular, favoring a soft, creamy buoyance in vivid scissor kicks and barrel turns.
With Yury Yanowsky, Ponomarenko also shone in the world premiere of "Rhyme," by Plotnikov, her husband. Beautifully lit in pools and corridors of light, the two connected and disconnected with tensile, slow motion deliberation. Their couplings, which featured Plotnikov's trademark forward pelvis and over-rotated limbs, had an almost underwater feel.
John Lam has emerged as one of the company's most versatile and expressive soloists. He was riveting in William Forsythe's "The Vile Parody of Address," moving with a spidery athleticism. Intense convoluted posturings segued into calculated trips and falls, as if his body was simply getting away from him.
James Whiteside and Jared Redick gave a superb performance of Sabrina Matthews's "Ein von viel," one of the best additions to the repertoire in years. The two play in and out of the exquisite counterpoint of Bach's "Goldberg Variations" (vibrantly played by Freda Locker) with playful phrases of luxurious weight, their limbs carving great slices of space with stretches, kicks, and off-balance turns.
Dancer/choreographer Carlos Molina provided the evening's most flamboyant virtuosity in his "Spartacus," in which he and his wife, Erica Cornejo, danced a passionate, tormented duet full of precarious balances and eye-popping lifts.
The company continues to look more and more comfortable in the works of Balanchine, represented by excellent performances of the slow movement of the gorgeous, all white "Concerto Barocco" and "Rubies."
The evening's one misstep was the opener, an excerpt from resident choreographer Jorma Elo's "In on Blue." An odd, puzzling exercise bathed in blue light, it comes off as a kind of camp underwater fairy tale.
A much better opener would have been the classic "Paquita," which brought out some of the younger corps members (enthusiastic, but, alas, not always precise.) However, it also provided an excellent showcase for the company's other star principal, Lorna Feijoo. The lovely softness in her upper body was combined by flamboyant arms and impeccably delicate footwork, not to mention a spectacular series of fouettes tossed off with seeming nonchalance. Now that would have started things off just right.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, a review of Boston Ballet in Saturday's Living & Arts section incorrectly credited John Lam for dancing in a piece choreographed by Sabrina Matthews. James Whiteside actually danced in "Ein von viel."