Setting the Wang on fire

By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  May 20, 2009

The trademark Elo tropes are out in force: Cubist displacement of forms (appropriate to the early years of the Ballets Russes), windmilling, Brian Boitano double tours, revoltades, backward crawling, evolutionary trudging, head shaking, fishy hands, bird hands, hands fluttering in front of eyes, hands that seem to combine ASL with semaphore. Yet he also draws on the movement vocabulary of Nijinsky’s original (as reconstructed by Millicent Hodson). The background is dimly lit, so much of the incessant detail (like the sequence of backward somersaults Kathleen Breen Combes does at the beginning of the “Spring Round Dances”) is intuited rather than seen.

But Elo’s storyline is clear enough. Yanowsky (in a dark-red metallic top — the other men are all bare-chested) is Elo’s Chief Elder, Lorna Feijóo (who sometimes dances with the men) is his Old Woman of 300 Years, and the two of them keep cornering and manipulating Ponomarenko as if she were Stravinsky’s Petrouchka. Hough is Ponomarenko’s BFF, Varga her would-be lover. At the end of part one, the villagers swing Ponomarenko aloft and she bicycles in a vain attempt to escape. Hough rescues her and shoos everyone else away, but in part two she too is manipulated by Yanowsky and helpless to intervene. Ponomarenko has the last word, however: she bourrées off and Yanowsky becomes the Chosen One, the villagers chopping him down to size.

Boston Ballet hadn’t done a Sacre since Maurice Béjart’s “sex and the single victim” version back in 1989. You could argue that Elo’s creation is too complicated to take in at one viewing, and that the acrobatic duets of part two — Hough with Whiteside, Cornejo with Varga, Breen Combes with Bo Busby — aren’t individualized. But the company’s dancers met Elo’s stupefying demands (Varga in particular at the eruption that initiates the “Dance of the Earth”), Yanowsky was as malevolent as Ponomarenko was tender, and Hough kept ratcheting up the energy level.

Not the least of this Sacre’s enticements was the playing of the Boston Ballet Orchestra. Ever since Pierre Boulez, in the 1960s, stripped Stravinsky’s piece of its color to reveal the stark rhythmic skeleton, performances have tended toward the primitive and brutal. Boston Ballet music director Jonathan McPhee restored the color, and the mystery, and the majesty.

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