Boston Ballet's Russian night is a journey worth taking
Full pieces work better than the excerpts
Bronislava Nijinska's ''Les Noces" could give you nightmares -- magnificent nightmares that could light up the room and turn your understanding of love and loss inside out. Performed in tandem with Igor Stravinsky's jagged, archetypal score (the movement, music, and song are so intertwined as to be one), the work -- a journey inside an ancient Russian peasant marriage -- shocked audiences with its abstraction and architectonics, its form-begetting-feeling and its ritualistic drama when it was first performed by Serge Diaghilev's Ballet Russes in Paris in 1923. In the bodies, and souls, of the Boston Ballet last night, it could still leave you gasping.
''Les Noces" was the highlight of the Ballet's ''Evening of Russian Ballet" at the Wang Theatre, a compendium of seven ballets or snippets of ballets, and two musical works: a lush rendition of the Coronation Scene from Mussorgsky's opera ''Boris Godunov" by the Boston Ballet Orchestra and the New World Chorale, and an orchestration of the finale of Theme and Variations from Tchiakovsky's Suite No. 3.
Smorgasbords of dance can be trying -- it's hard to get lost in the moment when an acrobatic tidbit in Cossack fittings (''Gopak," a 90-second solo from Rostislav Zakharov's 1941 ''Taras Bulba") is served up against a tremulous homage to an expiring spirit (Michel Fokine's ''The Dying Swan," choreographed in 1905 for Anna Pavlova), regardless of how whip-sharp the dancer may be. Hence the five components of the program's ''mini-gala," at the center of the evening (Asaf Messerer's ''Moszkowski Waltz" and ''Spring Waters" were the other two) paled when compared with the two standalone numbers: ''Les Noces" and Act III of Marius Petipa's ''Raymonda," choreographed in 1898.
Staged here by Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen, the ''Raymonda" excerpt featured fine deliveries by the corps and principals alike, with standout performances by Lorna Feijoo as the princess Raymonda and Melanie Atkins. Feijoo exhibited particularly musical timing in the in the Hungarian solo, her suspensions and pauses as pregnant as a caught breath. In her solo, Atkins showed blend of lyricism and attack that epitomized youthful exuberance.
Karine Seneca was delicate yet sinewy as Fokine's ''Dying Swan," set to the familiar Camille Saint-Saens score. When her undulating arms extended sideways, they emanated from deep in her back, making them not just arms but an extension of her spine.
Feijoo and Nelson Madrigal went at Petipa's ''Le Corsaire Pas de Deux" (1899), set to music by Riccardo Drigo, with full force. Remarkably, Madrigal can be both soft and powerful at once as he splits the air with leaps and hurls himself into bravura barrel turns.
But it was ''Les Noces," staged by Aleth Francillon, former Paris Opera ballet master that took hold and wouldn't let go. With its classical roots and Russian folk elements, its heart-piercing singes and its thrumming geometric shifts it presented images -- whether on point or flat-footed -- that were indelible. Ensembles of women, dashed to the ground or piled in a pyramid, their arms frozen in integrated circles. Clumps of men, fists to the air, unison jumps propelling them skyward. This arranged wedding was about sacrifice -- the bride and groom torn from their families and paired, it seemed, essentially to perpetuate the breed.
The window on the set's back wall could be a metaphor for the event: It was a tiny opening, as bleak as the barred space on a cellblock's back wall.