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Boston Ballet sparkles in its annual 'Night of Stars' benefit

Members of the Boston Ballet perform an excerpt from Balanchine's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' Friday night. Members of the Boston Ballet perform an excerpt from Balanchine's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" Friday night. (evan richman/globe staff)

Mikko Nissinen, artistic director of the Boston Ballet, has turned gala-making into something of an art. His aim is not to flash pyrotechnics and bravura turns of phrase, or to trot out a roster of guest artists, as benefits are wont to do, but to show the aesthetic range of his fine company.

Friday night, in his second annual benefit concert, titled "Night of Stars," he did just that, with meaty excerpts from ballets as divergent as John Cranko's "The Taming of the Shrew" and George Balanchine's "The Four Temperaments," Roland Petit's "Le Cygne Noir (Black Swan)" and August Bournonville's "Flower Festival in Genzano."

True, not every selection sang: Heather Myers's squiggly "Found," for example, with its arms like broken wings and flat-footed spins, grew tiresome midway through, and Nicholas Legat's "The Fairy Doll" went over the top with its cutesy battling of two men for one "doll" in frothy pink. Still, each contribution showcased yet another style the dancers could call their own.

Larissa Ponomarenko, partnered by Roman Rykine in the adagio from Balanchine's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," to Mendelssohn, made the air fairly tremble with her rapid-fire beats and swooning arches. The excerpt from the mysterious "Etesian," choreographed by Helen Pickett, was stark and windswept, full of contortionist quirks and noodling limbs. Kathleen Breen Combes, at once idiosyncratic and sensual, was a standout.

Lorna Feijoo and Reyneris Reyes delighted in the hilarious pas de deux from "The Taming of the Shrew," to music by Kurt-Heinz Stolze, after Scarlatti. Feijoo was a spitfire, alternately stomping on Reyes's toes and swatting his behind. He slipped from supplicant to man-in-charge with the spin of his torso. Particularly remarkable was how the two moved from head-on collisions to a full partnership and embrace with so much credibility and panache.

This company, it seems, can do almost anything, from a tight, sprightly reel out of "La Sylphide," choreographed by Sorella Englund after Bournonville, to Boyko Dossev's lyrical "Crane." In the latter, Misa Kuranaga melted as she arced over Jaime Diaz and swept into a back walkover, or sank into the floor, her legs bent fore and aft - borne aloft, it seemed, by the strains of Mozart.

The delicate gave way to the stringent with the "Choleric" segment and Finale of Balanchine's "The Four Temperaments." Starkly abstract, the piece blows apart classical ballet conventions with its thrusting pelvises and pushed-to-the-breaking-point metatarsals. Melanie Atkins as "Choleric" ripped through the air, carving it into shards.

I was only sorry that my deadline forced me to miss the last five of the 15 dances, particularly the pas de deux from Vasily Vainonen's "The Flames of Paris," featuring the Boston Ballet's Erica Cornejo and her brother, Herman Cornejo, principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre.

The performance was dedicated to longtime Boston Ballet supporter Cathryn S. Keith, who died Sept. 20 at age 97. Anyone who'd attended a Boston Ballet concert knew who she was: A small, elegantly dressed woman with soft gray hair swept up around a band. It was amazing how her absence was felt, even in this packed house.

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Boston Ballet

"Night of Stars"

At: Citi Performing Arts Center

Wang Theatre,

Friday night

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