L’Allegro, fuss and feathers, and the ICA blues

 A year in dance
By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  December 20, 2006

LONDON CALLING: Manon as Romeo and Juliet’s ugly stepsister.
This year we were looking forward to dance performances at the Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theater in the new ICA — but the ICA’s opening was postponed from September to December, and the dance performances found other venues or were moved into 2007. Instead, we got visits from two of the world’s best ballet companies, a flock of Swan Lakes, and Mark Morris old and new including a Boston Ballet commission and the first Boston performance of L’Allegro, il Moderato ed il Penseroso since 1994. Here’s 2006 as seen by Marcia B. Siegel, Debra Cash, and myself.

1.Birds of a feather
That would be the three Swan Lakes we were treated to, one gray and gorgeous from the Kirov Ballet, one graceful and elegant (along with a sleepy Sleeping Beauty) from the Tchaikovsky Perm Ballet, under former Boston Ballet principal Natalia Akhmarova, and one a gay Harlequin Romance, the all-male-swan version from Matthew Bourne. This last, with its parody of the British royal family and its men in fluffy white leggings, was lots of fun, even if there wasn’t much dancing.

2. London calling
The Kirov wasn’t the only high-profile ballet visitor this year — the Bank of America Celebrity Series also brought us the Royal in the Boston premiere of Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon. With its art prostituted to MacMillan’s politics, it perhaps wasn’t the best choice (why not Frederick Ashton?), but we did get three delectable Manons in Tamara Rojo, Alina Cojocaru, and Zenaida Yanowsky, plus former Boston Ballet principal Sarah Lamb — now a Royal principal — as Lescaut’s mistress, though she’d have been even more fetching without MacMillan’s trademark red hooker wig.

3. And the home team . . . ?
The year’s Boston Ballet highlight was an idiomatic-looking performance of Bronislava Nijinska’s Les Noces, part of “An Evening of Russian Dance,” a program that attested more to the richness of Russian tradition than to the virtuosity of Boston dancing. The “Grand Slam” quartet of contemporary work — Helen Pickett’s Etesian, Jorma Elo’s Plan to B, Mark Morris’s Up and Down, Val Caniparoli’s Lambarena — was more down than up, and many were puzzled as to why it got two weeks and Frederick Ashton’s poignant La Fille Mal Gardée only one. Jorma Elo’s Carmen, set to Rodion Shchedrin’s Bizet suite, was an intriguing, if not always lucid, experiment that looked evanescent next to George Balanchine’s Serenade. A company that can get down for Les Noces and up for Serenade would seem to be going in the right direction, and yet the Don Quixote and Nutcracker that finished out the year bespoke a degree of bland and generic that was foreign to Boston Ballet a decade ago, and these days bravura is spelled J-o-e-l P-r-o-u-t-y.

4.Mark Morris old and new
In January, Mark Morris Dance Group brought one of his defining works, L’Allegro, il Moderato ed il Penseroso, to town for the first time in a dozen years. March saw the world premiere of Morris’s Up and Down, a piece commissioned by Boston Ballet; he had his usual weekend at Jacob’s Pillow, and we caught his Mostly Mozart Festival–commissioned Mozart Dances at Lincoln Center. He can be obvious in the ways he illustrates music; he’s most appealing when his ideas don’t depend wholly on the musical structure.

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