"World Passions," the collection of four works that Boston Ballet opened at the Opera House last night, was more pleasant than passionate until Kathleen Breen Combes sashayed out as the title character in Jorma Elo's Carmen. For the next half-hour, there was enough energy on stage to fill an entire evening, Elo's work looking like West Side Story as choreographed by William Forsythe, and Breen Combes and her Don José, Yury Yanowsky, all stormy weather. It was more satisfying than many opera stagings of Bizet's work.
Repertory programs are generally designed on the "something old, something new" principle. "World Passions" was mostly new: company ballet master Pino Alosa's world-premiere adaptation of Marius Petipa's choreography for the 1881 ballet Paquita; the world premiere of Helen Pickett's Tsukiyo; former company principal Viktor Plotnikov's Rhyme, which had its world premiere at Boston Ballet's 2008 "Night of Stars" gala; and Jorma Elo's Carmen, which had its world premiere at Boston Ballet in 2006 but has since been revised and is now going under the name Carmen/Illusions. Two sizable pieces sandwiching two short ones made for a long evening: with two intermissions, the program ran nearly three hours.
PAQUITA Pleasing but no showstopper.
Paquita began life in 1846 in Paris; in 1881 Petipa updated it for St. Petersburg, with a new grand pas de deux classique and pas de trois and children's mazurka by Don Quixote composer Ludwig Minkus. Petipa's additions are pretty much all that's left of the ballet (though it's been reconstructed for the Paris Opera Ballet), and they make for a popular classical divertissement. Boston Ballet last did it, in a version by Tatiana Legat, in 2007, on a bill with Dace Dindonis's ill-starred Carmen. (The plot of Paquita has to do with a Gypsy girl, hence the connection with Carmen, and with "passions.") It's the kind of showstopper you expect to see at ABT, with fans whistling for their favorites.
That's never been the Boston Ballet way, though the 1997 opening-night Paquita, Larissa Ponomarenko, was electrifying. Last night, Ponomarenko was on crutches, having broken a bone in her foot, and we got Lorna Feijóo and Nelson Madrigal in the grand pas de deux. Feijóo shone in her closing fouettés, which she did while revolving in a circle while staying smack on the beat, but she doesn't have Ponomarenko's elasticity of phrasing, and both she and Madrigal look oddly pulled in. He had his best moments in the air, especially two big ciseaux, and he landed a pair of double tours in a creditable arabesque, but he also stumbled out of a couple of jumps.
Erica Cornejo brought a bright brio to the pas de trois that suggested she'd be a gratifying Paquita -- and she'll be dancing that role Saturday afternoon. In the first of the four solo variations for women, Melissa Hough put the bar up several notches as she flicked a leg up in developpé, teasingly, insouciantly, as if asking did we want to see Italian fouettés; we did, and she obliged. Misa Kuranaga zipped through changes of direction and attack; Breen Combes opened with explosive grands jetés and concluded with an elegant pas de chat. The children's mazurka was given to the corps; the ladies, in their plate tutus, were stylish, but Alosa's choreography wasn't very imaginative. I liked the backdrop, red with a black Moorish-arabesque frame.