Theme and variations

By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  May 13, 2010

John Lam’s big, soft Melancholic balances muscle with meditation, and he’s not fazed when the quartet of psychopomp ladies turn up, their scything grands battements like the heartbeats of the universe. All jutting hips and flicking legs, Erica Cornejo makes Sanguinic look almost too easy, but that’s in the character. Her partner, Nelson Madrigal, seems heavy by comparison, though last night his entrechat six were well defined. A second quartet of ladies, meanwhile, hot-foot it across the stage, as if they’d somehow all wound up in Hell rather than Heaven, and though Cornejo dances with them briefly, the couple and the quartet go their separate ways. Carlos Molina’s droopy, centrifugal Phlegmatic just wants to get along, so of course his female quartet keep getting in the way, waggling their pelvises (this seemed understated last night), offering and not offering, while he tries to protect his space. Once Hindemith’s music lopes into its third part, however, man and women reach an accord. That breaks down at once with Breen Combes’s feral entrance in Choleric. This time it’s a quartet of men surrounding the woman, hunters, or the bachelors from Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass — but it turns out Breen Combes has reinforcements. As the themes — musical and choreographic — and the dancers from the previous sections return, harmony — musical and sexual — breaks out.

Apollo is also a theme and variations and a battle of the sexes — so maybe that’s the story in this program. Apollo himself is the theme — even without the prologue in which we see him born (Balanchine dropped it in 1979), you know you’re watching his existential birth, his artistic birth, his romantic birth. In that signature moment when he opens and closes his right fist, he’s the center of the universe — or it’s the center of him. And when he dances with his three half-sisters (all of them children of Zeus) in close-order drill, Balanchine is anticipating the daisy chains of ballets yet to be born (notably Theme and Variations), the perfection of the individual within the perfection of the group. Pavel Gurevich is an expansive and wide-eyed god-in-the-making; Rie Ichikawa is an overdramatic, redundant Calliope (but then, that’s why Apollo passes on her), Whitney Jensen a leggy, exuberant Polyhymnia. Lia Cirio’s Terpsichore is hard to fault: she does everything right, but she looks as if she were trying to do everything right instead of just doing it.

Balanchine changed the ending of Apollo as well as the beginning: instead of climbing a staircase to Parnassus, leaving the Muses in his wake (is this a metaphor for the choreographer and his ballerina Muses?), the god stands with an arm stretched outward and the three ladies fan out behind him in different stages of arabesque. It doesn’t match the stark farewell of Stravinsky’s score, which departs without having answered its four-note riddle. The loss of Stravinsky’s prologue, too, is crippling to the structure of the music. Boston Ballet did the pre-1979 version in 1993; I was sorry not to see it this time out.

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