The reign in Spain

Boston Ballet on tour
By CHRISTINE TEMIN  |  August 7, 2007
LA SYLPHIDE: Air, not the ground, seemed Lorna Feijóo’s natural habitat.

Slideshow: Boston Ballet in Spain
MADRID — Ballet companies need to tour. Performing for different audiences, on different stages, refreshes dancers. It makes them wake up and get out of whatever home-town rut might exist. They get the opinions of other critics in other cities, and if the reviews are positive, they arrive back home feeling like conquering heroes.

Boston Ballet hasn’t toured internationally since 1991. In his six years as artistic director, Mikko Nissinen has worked mightily to take the company abroad. Now he’s succeeded. The troupe is currently in the last stages of a five-week tour of Spain, with most of the seven venues being the delightful outdoor festivals that are such a popular fixture of Spanish summer life. The reviews in Spain have been largely positive.

I caught up with the company in Madrid, the Spanish capital and by definition the most important stop on the tour. Watching Boston Ballet dance at the 1700-seat Patio del Conde Duque theater was a totally different experience from observing them from the dim recesses of the Wang Theatre, their Boston home. I never feel that I’m close enough to the dancing at the Wang, and the sight lines are so poor that I find myself wagging my head from side to side even when sitting in an aisle seat in the orchestra. The steeply raked outdoor bleachers of the Conde Duque afforded everyone a clear view.

The house was generally sold out during the four-night Madrid run, and the Ballet’s reception was nothing short of rapturous — a standing ovation every time. The dancers deserved it. Nissinen has turned this once-provincial group into an ensemble of international stature.

Madrid was appreciative. Nissinen gave numerous interviews to both the general press and to dance publications. An hour-long television program about Boston Ballet was broadcast nationally. It’s the kind of attention the company doesn’t get back home.

The troupe danced two programs. The first, “Classic Balanchine,” consisted of three works by the 20th century’s greatest choreographer: Serenade, the abbreviated concert version of Who Cares?, and The Four Temperaments. The second was La Sylphide, the quintessential Romantic-era ballet. At the press conference before the Madrid opening, journalists asked why Nissinen hadn’t brought more-contemporary pieces. He has, after all, launched the successful American career of his fellow Finn, Jorma Elo, commissioned ballets by Mark Morris, the most sought-after choreographer on the planet, and given Helen Pickett, a former dancer with William Forsythe’s Frankfurt Ballet, her first crack at creating one of her improvisation-based pieces for a major classical company.

The answer to this question about the choice of repertory is simply that it was requested by the Spanish presenter, Ada Casanovas. The company got to Spain in the first place because Casanovas’s ex-husband is a Cuban dancer who knows Boston Ballet principal Lorna Feijóo, also from Cuba. Now that the company has been such a bit hit, she plans to bring them back for an encore every other year.

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