Dark victory

Boston Ballet in Serenade and La Sylphide
By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  October 31, 2007

SERENADE: Warning signals, disappearing dancers.

Serenade and La Sylphide | Serenade: Music by Peter Tchaikovsky | Choreography by George Balanchine | Costumes by Karinska | La Sylphide: Music by Herman Severin Løvenskiold | Choreography by Sorella Englund, after August Bournonville | Set and costumes by Peter Cazalet | Lighting by Karim Badwan | with the Boston Ballet Orchestra Conducted by Jonathan MCphee | Presented by Boston Ballet at The Wang Theatre through October 28
“El Boston Ballet deslumbra” (“Boston Ballet dazzles”), exclaimed Madrid’s El Pais, Spain’s biggest daily newspaper. “L’apotheosi del romanticisme” (“The apotheosis of romanticism”), chimed in Barcelona’s El Periódico. They were reviewing Boston Ballet’s performance of August Bournonville’s La Sylphide at the Castell de Peralada Festival this past August, part of a six-week tour of Spain — and it didn’t hurt that the company featured its Hispanic dancers, notably Carlos Molina and Lorna Feijóo at Peralada. Now it’s our turn to be dazzled as Boston Ballet opens its subscription season with a well-rehearsed performance of one of the oldest (1836) classics in the ballet repertory. La Sylphide is a short two acts — not much more than an hour — and the company is pairing it with George Balanchine’s Serenade (1934-’77), which it also took to Spain. (The last time Boston Ballet staged La Sylphide, in March 2005, the piece went stag; before that, in October 1988, it was preceded by Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco, which the company will do again in May.)

It’s a good pairing: together, Serenade and La Sylphide write an essay on doomed love. Serenade sends out warning signals from its opening tableau — 17 women all with right arm extended and hand flexed — and yet by the end of Tchaikovsky’s sportive Sonatina, a man and a woman have hooked up. They gambol in the Waltz that follows (hence their usual casting names, Waltz Boy and Waltz Girl) and in the jaunty Tema Russo. Meanwhile, Russian Girl (another casting designation) comes and goes, at first blessing the couple, then joining a quartet of women who appear to spin out the pair’s fate. At the end of the Tema Russo, Waltz Boy runs out — or off — with the 16 women while Waltz Girl crashes to the floor. Two (afterlife?) figures appear: Elegy Man and, her hand over his eyes and heart, Dark Angel. Russian Girl enters and the four of them dance, à la Balanchine’s Apollo, the three women with their hair down; after a bit, Russian Girl, like Waltz Boy, disappears, Elegy Man and Dark Angel move on, and Waltz Girl is comforted by some of the women and and borne aloft by three men — into the Light? — as the curtain descends..

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