APOLLO: Boston Ballet’s all-Balanchine program in May made clear the choreographer’s pre-eminence and brought out the best in the company’s dancers.
Some of the past year's most interesting dance events recaptured iconic moments in our history, either as usable texts for today's dancers or as a springboard into reinterpretation, parody, and nostalgia. The texts themselves — those classic dances that form the backbone of the art — aren't as stable as we think, but they still stand as markers of style, technique, and attitude. Classical ballet may go in and out of fashion, but it won't disappear as long as dancers inhabit its literature.
BOSTON BALLET regularly invests in contemporary choreographic works, but it also keeps its classical tools sharpened on 19th-century story ballets (Coppélia and La Bayadère this year, and of course The Nutcracker) and a steady supply of George Balanchine's ballets. The all-Balanchine program in May was an indulgence in the best sense: a banquet of intense dancing in three different tones.
In these ballets alone — the fusion of myth and modernism in Apollo (1928), the formalist drama of Four Temperaments (1948), and the spectacle of pure classicism of Theme and Variations (1947) — we could recognize Balanchine's versatility, his dance invention. We could see why he's been ballet's pre-eminent choreographer for so long. Boston Ballet's continuing relationship with his work challenged the corps de ballet, and it brought out impressive featured performances by Misa Kuranaga, John Lam, Jeffrey Cirio, Kathleen Breen Combes, Tiffany Hedman, Whitney Jensen, and James Whiteside.
It wasn't just ballet repertory that broadened our historical perspective in 2010. BOSTON CONSERVATORY revived 20th-century modern-dance works by Anna Sokolow and Boston-based Joseph Gifford in March, and Alwin Nikolais in the fall. SUMMER STAGES DANCE honored teacher/choreographer Dan Wagoner with a homey evening of reminiscences by Wagoner and members of his now-disbanded company. When you look at this relatively recent work, you realize how individualistic the modern dancers were, both for the way they framed movement and for their persistence in realizing their own particular visions.
Few contemporary artists undertake a thorough assessment of the entire enterprise, or are able to imprint their own personalities on the information they've absorbed from their teachers. STEPHEN PETRONIO ramped up the cool postmodernism of his mentor, Trisha Brown, into virtuosic high-energy ensemble work. His gorgeous company showed the full-length I Drink the Air Before Me at the Institute of Contemporary Art in March. Hard to believe, but Petronio started his company more than 25 years ago. He's a mid-career artist now.
MEREDITH MONK belongs to an even older generation of singular artists. A visionary singer, composer, director, and filmmaker, Monk began in the 1960s, and her influence flows way beyond the dance field. Inner Voice, a documentary film by Babeth M. VanLoo, recaps her career and recalls some of her most memorable theater pieces while tracking the development of the spiritually resonant 2009 Songs of Ascension.
Revivals and documentaries are one way to look back at our past. Another is to use those performances we've loved or heard about to trigger off new performance pieces. The oldest of this year's reconfigured memories was JEROME ROBBINS's New York Export: Opus Jazz. Made for Robbins's short-lived Ballets USA in 1958, Opus Jazz brought streetwise ballet dancing to Europe when the company toured abroad.