Lambarena redux

By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  August 23, 2006

DUO CONCERTANT II: Back in 2004, Melanie Atkins and Sabi Varga showed how it’s done.
Boston Ballet has announced its roster for 2006–2007, and it includes one new principal, Argentine dancer Erica Cornejo, who since 2003 has been a soloist at American Ballet Theatre, alongside her brother Herman. Last January she married Carlos Molina, who’s also a former ABT soloist and current Boston Ballet principal, and this season she’ll be moving to Boston to join her husband. The 10 principals from 2005–2006 are all staying on: Romi Beppu, Lorna Feijóo, Tai Jiménez, Larissa Ponomarenko, Karine Seneca, Nelson Madrigal, Molina, Reyneris Reyes, Roman Rykine, and Yury Yanowsky. First soloist Chris Budzynski and his wife, corps member Alexandra Kochis, are leaving to join Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (“Partners pirouette to Pittsburgh” was the Herald headline); first soloist Sacha Wakelin has also left the company. Sabi Varga and Rie Ichikawa have been promoted to first soloist, Lia Cirio, John Lam, and James Whiteside to second.

These last three have been getting soloist roles for some time, so their advancement is no surprise. Ichikawa made a splash as Lise in Fille, having loosened up in both her face and her acting; she deserves her promotion, but some will wonder whether second soloists Kathleen Breen Combes and Misa Kuranaga didn’t have an equal claim. Sabi Varga had some injury problems this past season before exploding onto the stage in May as Escamillo in Jorma Elo’s Carmen. It was he and Melanie Atkins (they’re now married) who back in 2004 did Duo Concertant with the Balanchine sensibility that was missing in Wevers and Nadeau.

But Budzynski and Kochis are a real loss. Kochis was the last corps member from the pre–Valerie Wilder/Mikko Nissinen era; she gave grace and personality to everything she did, and she could make a tiny role like Little Red Riding Hood in The Sleeping Beauty into a showstopper. And Budzynski was one of the few men at Boston Ballet with the technique to make audiences — and critics — sit up and take notice. His round, good-natured face kept him out of the leading-man spotlight, but no one could miss him in Fille, where in different performances he played doltish Alain (as something more than doltish), Lise’s mother in drag, and a macho rooster. And when the company included in its “Russian” evening a set of “bravura” party pieces, his Gopak supplied the only bravura.

LA FILLE MAL GARDÉE: Not the Ashton ballet, and not as good, but there’s a surprise inside.

Speaking of Boston Ballet: a new DVD of La Fille Mal Gardée has a company connection. The performance, by the Basel Ballet, isn’t actually new: it was filmed on a Cologne soundstage in 1986 for European television and has just now been issued stateside by Deutsche Grammophon. And it’s not the cuddly 1960 Frederick Ashton version of the 1789 Jean Dauberval original that Boston Ballet staged in 2003 and again last March but a “new version” devised by Heinz Spoerli and Jean-Michel Damase to a score that conflates the music by Ferdinand Hérold (1791–1833) that Ashton used with music by Peter Ludwig Hertel (1817–1899).

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