Boston Ballet dazzles with “Chroma”

Susan Saccoccia | 5/8/2013, 11:29 a.m.
The Boston Ballet is presenting two 20th-century masterpieces by George Balanchine and...

The subtle palette extends to the set by John Pawson, lit by Lucy Carter and Simon Bennison. Rectangular panels in neutral tones frame the dancers, who step over the edge of one panel to enter the dance floor. This stylized entrance is one way that “Chroma” explores the horizon between being on and off stage.

Neutrality applies to the flat affect of the dancers, whose faces remain inexpressive even as they perform astonishing feats, extreme backbends and then unravel into an aloof, runway-style strut as they leave the dance floor.

What isn’t subtle is the driving score by Joby Talbot, arranged by Jack White of the White Stripes, a torrent of percussive electronica that accompanies the almost violent choreography. Yet “Chroma” builds in lyrical passages too; solos and duets with long, slow leg extensions are accompanied by chamber segments of the piano, cello and violin.

The audience responded to “Chroma” with repeated standing ovations. While the execution of Boston Ballet’s dancers and orchestra was admirable, the relentless focus on the sheer arduousness of dance seemed too small a tale to tell.  

Balanchine’s “Symphony in C” (1947) glitters with the hard brightness of jewels. Its harmonious couplings and ensemble formations draw the dancers into geometric patterns that increase in size and complexity, climaxing in an exultant grand finale of 52 dancers.

Dancing to a score by George Bizet against a blue backdrop, the women wear stiff white tutus, with hair pulled back into garland-encircled chignons. The ensemble’s dozen men are attired in blue velvet jumpsuits.

Uniformly clad, each dancer is part of a larger whole that celebrates the joys of discipline and human interaction that are at the heart of dance. They fire off precise pirouettes and whirring footwork and, linked in a human chain, they loop under each other’s arms with the ease of children in a schoolyard game. Yet this is grown-up pleasure, with full control and mastery on display.

 Four tiara-crowned prima ballerinas, one per movement, render various solos and duets. Groups grow in size while repeating patterns set by the preceding, smaller band of dancers.

In contrast to its simple color scheme, the panorama of white and blue figures becomes an increasingly complex composition. It’s as if through his dancers, Balanchine is saying, “Can you top this?”