Now that Boston Ballet has settled into the Opera House (after nearly 30 years at the Wang Theatre) and its "Night of Stars" gala has turned five — well, the thrill might not be gone, but the novelty has worn off. Still, as season-opening galas go, the one the company presented on Saturday was solid on stage and largely filled the Opera House. You could hardly move at intermission.
The one real misstep was the curtain raiser, the "Kingdom of the Shades" excerpt from La Bayadère — which, opening November 4, will be the first subscription production of the company's 2010–2011 season. Substituting for the Paris Opera Ballet–style défilé, or company introduction, that has graced past galas, this sequence brought 24 ballerinas down a zigzag ramp in alternating arabesque and tendu. Its raison d'être is the corps's precision, but that was lacking here. Worse, once they were all in arabesque on the flat stage, one dancer put her free leg down, and there was much adjusting of the standing legs. This will have to improve by next Thursday.
Otherwise, this "Night of Stars" was a well-chosen program that delineated the company's range while giving every principal a chance to shine. Brightest was Kathleen Breen Combes as Terpsichore in an excerpt from George Balanchine's Apollo, a role that, because of injury, she didn't get to do when Boston Ballet staged the piece last May. She was so spontaneous, she could have been making it up as she went. Pavel Gurevich was her too earnest Apollo. The other Balanchine whiz kid was 18-year-old Whitney Jensen, coltish and a shade unfinished in his Tarantella but with fabulous flicking arms and legs — not to mention the security with which she dipped on pointe while in seconde. Jeffrey Cirio matched her in snap, if not sinuousness.
The other eye openers were Larissa Ponomarenko in Helen Pickett's Layli o Majnun (the title of a work by Persian poet Nezami) and new soloist Joseph Gatti (from the Corella Ballet) in the pas de deux from Le Corsaire. Sporting a new tousled hairdo, Ponomarenko gave Pickett's piece its agony and ecstasy; her partner, new principal Lasha Khozashvili (from Georgia) verged on one-dimensionally violent. Gatti brought attitude to his slave, but also brio and bravura. His partner, new soloist Adiarys Almeida (from Cuba, also by way of the Corella), was pleasing and technically adept but may prove redundant in a company that already has Erica Cornejo. We also got the novelty of the Don Quixote pas de deux performed by two couples, Lia Cirio and Khozashvili alternating with Cornejo and Nelson Madrigal.
Jorma Elo's Plan to B has been seen here to excess; my plan was to take an early intermission, but I changed my mind when I saw what Jensen, new principal (and much improved) Lia Cirio, Isaac Akiba, Jeffrey Cirio, Bo Busby, and Sabi Varga brought to it. Balanchine's Scherzo à la Russe, encoring from last spring's Ballet-school gala, went off at a gallop. The world premiere, company principal Yury Yanowsky's Li3 (for lithium, the lightest element?), showcased soloist Rie Ichikawa (looking very confident this year) between soloists John Lam and Jaime Diaz; the score, by recent Berklee grad Lucas Vidal, was redolent of Philip Glass but with a redemptive assault.