As the eight Valses nobles et sentimentales swirl ominously, the three ponytailed Fates materialize, preening and primping; they’re followed by three couples, the men in formal shirts and jackets over tights. The eighth and last waltz sees the Girl in White hook up with a handsome gentleman — but then La valse starts up, with its Jaws-like ostinato, and a Dark Stranger appears. He has a diamond necklace for her; he has long black gloves (which she dips into as if there were a diamond engagement ring at the bottom) and a net black overdress and even a black bouquet. That’s enough to make her his forever — no exaggeration, since he dances her to death in his arms. He vanishes, and as Ravel’s music turns irretrievably rotten, the revelers raise her body aloft as if she were the Chosen One who dances herself to death at the end of Stravinsky’s Sacre.
The opening-night La Valse stressed parody rather than poignance. Karine Seneca as the Girl in White (a role Balanchine set on Tanaquil Le Clercq) and Pavel Gurevich as the Man She Might Love were tinged with calculation, like Kate Croy and Morton Densher in Henry James’s The Wings of the Dove, and Carlos Molina was a deadpan Death; it all gave in too easily to the decadence of the music, I thought. Seneca had her best moment dancing as an automaton in Molina’s arms; it recalled the angular precision of her Bride in last season’s Les Noces.
Friday evening Larissa Ponomarenko was a Tatiana yearning for Onegin, every fiber of her body quivering at the prospect of romance, and she had the audience quivering as well, with details popping everywhere like fireflies on the dark set. Roman Rykine wasn’t on the same emotional wavelength as her suitor, but Yury Yanowsky was an angry, violent Death, and when she plummeted lifeless through his arms, she seemed transformed, as if no mortal love could have fulfilled her. Why don’t Ponomarenko and Yanowsky dance together more often?
Saturday afternoon Kathleen Breen Combes and Sabi Varga made for a different Henry James couple, the rich, beautiful American and the poor titled European, their body language and her big smile the dictionary definition of smitten, Ravel’s tawdry score unheard. They might have been a couple out of Balanchine’s Who Cares? (or, for more-contemporary tastes, Sex and the City). Only the most pitiless, most implacable Death could have parted them, and that was Mindaugas Bauzys. Breen Combes whooshed to the floor even harder than Ponomarenko.
The Fates — Sarah Wroth, Katelyn Prominski, Kimberly Uphoff in one group, Megan Gray, Kelley Potter, and Josephine Pra in the other — managed to be both sphinx-inscrutable and Cinderella-stepsisterish. Varga set the standard for echt Viennese waltz lilt and elegance, Melanie Atkins for playful detail. I wonder whether there’s a Vienna Waltzes in Boston Ballet’s future.