Setting the Wang on fire

By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  May 20, 2009

Boston Ballet last did Prodigal in 2003, with Yury Yanowsky as the opening-night Son. He’s as charged now as he was then, and dancing as well as he ever has, his Prodigal a wild child who’s cocky and optimistic and more than a little incredulous when — having broken free of his overbearing father and his two sisters and taken his goods and left — he finds himself crucified and stripped. It’s an intensely physical performance; the way he hangs off the pillar cross (which quintuples as picket fence, table, crib, and ship), he could be preparing to model for Titian’s late, great Pietà. Jared Redick doesn’t have Yanowsky’s force, but in his three performances he offered an intelligent reading, his Prodigal angry at the outset, comic in the middle, devastated at the end. These were Redick’s final performances; he’s retiring to focus on heading the Boston Ballet School’s Norwell studio.

The three Sirens were of a piece, all warmer and more insinuating than the pair I saw — Agnès Letestu and Marie-Agnès Gillot — in Paris in 2003. Opposite Yanowsky, Melanie Atkins (who also danced Prodigal in 2003, though not with him) was the most subtle and fluid, promising rather than proffering. She’s also retiring, to become the children’s ballet mistress for Boston Ballet School — our loss, the kids’ gain. Kathleen Breen Combes, who partnered Redick, was more aggressive in the projection of her shoulders and pelvis; Melissa Hough, in a single performance Sunday night, was the lushest and most weighted. And it would be hard to imagine a better father than Arthur Leeth, who’s the embodiment of patriarchal, good and bad.

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THE PRODIGAL SON: Melanie Atkins and Yury Yanowsky make this even better than it was in 2003 

The vulnerability of this Prodigal is a trademark — mostly a good one — of Boston Ballet, and it showed as well in Spectre and Faun. Erica Cornejo was a wide-eyed, spontaneous dreamer, Larissa Ponomarenko a refined, aristocratic one with a long, long line. I would like to have seen Ponomarenko with Pavel Gurevich, who was the biggest and most poetic of the three Spectres — not that she didn’t look fine with a fresh and athletic James Whiteside. Altankhuyag Dugaraa was the revelation in Faun, all attitude (“I’m the James Dean of Fauns,” he seemed to say) and slow, animal movement. His two Nymphs, Heather Myers and Josephine Pra, matched him in stylization. The six corps nymphs did a good job with the frieze-like — shoulders square to the audience, feet in profile — movement, which has much in common with the Siren’s.

Nijinsky’s Sacre provoked an infamous riot when it premiered in Paris in May 1913. I wonder what that audience would have made of Elo’s barn burner. The 1913 curtain rose, as Stravinsky later described it, on a “group of knock-kneed and long-braided Lolitas jumping up and down.” Ninety-six years later, we get a dark stage across whose rear a line of tiny fires burns, with a barely visible figure — Sabi Varga — huddled in the center kissing the earth (part one of the score is called “The Kiss of the Earth”) as Stravinsky’s bassoon issues its mournful mating call. The fires are surely Elo’s paean to Yarilo, the Russian sun god (also associated with the bonfires of Midsummer Night’s Eve) of Nijinsky’s Sacre, and likewise the red that Elo’s 16 dancers (eight men, eight women) wear. Ponomarenko enters, and she and Varga hug as if bidding farewell. It’s clear she’s the Chosen One.

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