By Mary Hierholzer
Kylián/Wings of Wax is the ballet to beat this season. Boston Ballet’s triple-bill show, which opened last Thursday, is a dramatic and tasteful range of dance, from the opener of George Balanchine’s sweet Donizetti Variations, to Jiří Kylián’s atmospheric Wings of Wax, and a triumphant finale with Alexander Ekman’s Cacti.
Boston Ballet’s dancers rose to the occasion of their stellar program, with each program receiving enthusiastic responses from the crowd. Principal Dancer Misa Kuranaga and Soloist Junxiong Zhao (promoted to a principal dancer next season) set the standard for the night, leading Donizetti Variations with ease, charm and exceptional technique. The confident partners soared. Mr. Zhao’s incredible lightness and technical skill makes it seem like he can do anything (and he did, perfectly executing difficult choreography with ease), and Ms. Kuranaga’s technique was exceptional.
Alongside them in the Donizetti corps, dancers of Boston Ballet were fittingly lighthearted with their energetic twists and turns. I was particularly pleased with Corps de Ballet Dancers María Álvarez and Marcus Romeo, who stood out with excellent dancing and delightful personality.
The dark, dramatic and sobering Wings of Wax by Jiří Kylián is a moment in time. Subtle details communicate huge emotion—the dancers rarely make eye contact; they manipulate gravity through their motions; grave faces and outstretched limbs tell stories beneath the dead limbs of a tree looming upside down above them.
A stunning ensemble danced Wings of Wax on opening night. Each dancer took full opportunity of their solos and partnering, living the ballet and its music in a way that felt fulfilling. Though the contemporary choreography is abstract, Principal Dancer Kathleen Breen Combes gave the impression of a protagonist with her bold and ethereal presence.
Alongside her, and later in Cacti, Soloist Paul Craig yet again demonstrated that he possesses the qualities and capability required of a lead leading man at Boston Ballet, a role he’ll assume next season as a principal. Soloist Rachele Buriassi was another standout in Wings of Wax. Onstage, the Italian dancer has a way of powerfully embodying emotion in her movements, and expressing dance with unique edge.
Kylián/Wings of Wax is the ballet to beat, but it’s also the ballet with beat. The heartbeat of Ekman’s Cacti, an irreverent satire on lofty, philosophical art (amusing—and refreshing—right after William Forsythe’s Artifact 2017), is the dancers, themselves, beating rhythms on giant boxes and on their bodies. And with them, a wild string quartet plays furious classical tunes over the drumming, creating delicious chaos onstage.
Mr. Craig and Principal Dancer Dusty Button nailed their pas de deux set to a hilarious voiceover that describes their choreography as if it was a logical sequence of movements. It takes great skill to perform comedy and good ballet at the same time, but they are two dancers absolutely fit for the challenge.
With choreography that is so rhythmically sporadic, the 16 Cacti dancers were impressively precise and in sync with each other. They brought out the ballet’s humor, but just slightly lacked the energy that it demands to be a true show-stopper. Regardless Cacti is certainly a crowd favorite, so absurdly wonderful and so impossible to describe, that it needs to be seen.
Kylián/Wings of Wax is a program not to be missed.
Boston Ballet will perform Kylián/Wings of Wax at the Boston Opera House through April 2. For tickets, visit the Boston Ballet webpage, or call the box office at 617.695.6955.