The three pieces after intermission were selected to show off the students' range: George Balanchine's Valse Fantaisie, the first act of August Bournonville's Konservatoriet, and Extraction4, a piece by Boston Ballet soloist Jeffrey Cirio, who'd just turned 20. Valse Fantaisie is more demanding than the playful Scherzo à la Russe that the school did at last year's "Next Generation," and the trainees led by Emilia Cadorin and Boston Ballet II guest Lawrence Rines were fully extended, but, again, the fundamentals were in place. Extraction4 was a Jorma Elo–like piece for four men and two women from BB2 to a score by Max Richter that at first sounded as if Titanic were bearing down on the dancers, though later it began to suggest Philip Glass. The dancers themselves somehow suggested RNA strands; it was amazingly assured work from a 20-year-old.
Konservatoriet's first act is set in a ballet studio at the Paris Conservatoire, where Bournonville studied in the 1820s. BB2 member Patrick Yocum acted as the ballet master, with BB2 member Melanie Riffee and trainee Julia Mitchell as his star pupils. La Sylphide apart, Bournonville doesn't turn up on many ballet programs, but the natural grace he wanted from dancers is another kind of fundamental. And though this selection too seemed more difficult than last year's Bournonville (the pas de six and tarantella from Napoli), it was delivered with a pleasing lightness and attention to the simplest tendus and développés and entrechats and beats.
I didn't sense quite the excitement that greeted last year's inaugural event. But perhaps that's just a sign that "Next Generation," like the company's now annual "Night of Stars" gala, is here to stay. Before the curtain went up, Nissinen came out front with Boston Ballet School director Margaret Tracey to introduce the evening, and he reminded us that 40 percent of the current company came out of the school. There's fundamentals, and then there's foundation.
The company, meanwhile, finished out its season in, if not a blaze of glory, at least a very bright glow. That, really, was the nature of the "Balanchine/Robbins" program, a tribute to artistry rather than pyrotechnics. Antique Epigraphs, I neglected to mention, was getting its first performances by a company other than NYCB. Audiences might well have wondered why no one else has staged this work over the past 28 years. Had Nissinen bought a lemon? By the end of the run, however, no one was wondering — on the contrary, Nissinen was looking like a genius. Nothing could be less pyrotechnic, less pretentious, than the closing "Syrinx" section, the eight women, having thanked the morning rain, being all ears to the call of the flute, to Syrinx in distress, individual in their initial responses, then a community when they link arms. Yet in performance after performance, this finish brought the audience to their feet. Maybe blaze of glory is overrated.
The same cast danced all eight performances of Antique Epigraphs; Robbins's Afternoon of a Faun, however, gave us Jaime Diaz with Rachel Cossar and then Claire Stallman. Where Sabi Varga is a tabula rasa in this role, an Apollo-like god of self-discovery, Diaz is a matinee idol, a knowing self-admirer. Cossar, the first time I saw her, seemed short on narcissism, checking her technique in the mirror rather than appreciating it. But I liked the intention with which she caught Diaz's attention via her développéd leg, and the way she held her gaze steady when he kissed her on the cheek, watching his reflection and not him. She grew more confident in her final performance, this past Sunday. Stallman took the role in yet another direction; she might have been one of Apollo's Muses, more than a dancer, not quite a god. Eve, perhaps.