Boston Ballet troupe wows ’em at the Strand; interaction between stage and audience ‘electric’

The deafening cheers and whistles, vigorous arm-pumps and frequent standing O’s that greeted last Friday’s debut of the Boston Ballet at the Strand Theater banished any lingering doubts that Dorchester-area schoolchildren could really respond to high art.

Organizers were very gratified by the kids’ genuinely enthusiastic reaction to the carefully crafted hour-long show, staged at 10 a.m and 4:30 p.m.

Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director of the Boston Ballet, along with his artistic staff, arranged the fast-paced program that showcased a young, ethnically diverse ensemble in attention-grabbing pieces, some as short as a minute, alternating with explanations by emcees with whom the audience could easily relate. The physicality of the lithe dancers, often clad in minimal modern costumes, impressed even those who had never heard of Balanchine or Baryshnikov.

Nissinen, who watched the performance from the center of the orchestra, had this assessment: "Our first-ever performances at The Strand Theatre were a really amazing experience. The energy and interaction between the audiences and stage was truly electric, and it was a thrill to see such enthusiasm generated. I think Boston Ballet opened some eyes to the versatility of our dancers and dance today. Thank you to Mayor Menino and the City of Boston, the Strand Theatre, and Karmaloop, for their support of these performances, and I hope this will be just the first of many more to come."

Julie Burns, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Arts, Tourism and Special Events, added, “We were honored that Boston Ballet was willing to do these free performances for both community and school groups. These types of performances are essential as we try to make the arts more accessible.”

Programmers knew full well that they were going to get snickers from the audience at the tights worn by the male members of Boston Ballet II and Boston Ballet School in opening classical village set piece “Tarantella.” But emcees Tai Jimenez and Jared Redick refocused attention on the physiques and athleticism of dancers.
With new eyes, the crowd appreciated corps de ballet member Jeffrey Cirio in a solo variation from “La Bayadere.” A shirtless Isaac Akiba wowed the crowd with a hip-hop piece choreographed by Cirio, and later the stage was deluged by volunteers when Cirio offered to teach audience members a short sequence.

Nissinen generously made space even within the tight 60 minutes for “guest artists” from the immediate neighborhood. The program started with a piece by 7 barefoot young women from the Bird Street Group in white flowing skirts and black leotards. Besides learning the previously mentioned routine taught by Cirio, kids had the chance to bust out some of their own amazing moves on the grand Strand stage.

The Mayor’s Office estimated that 850 youngsters from local schools attended the 10 a.m. performance and a still respectable 300 locals, “mostly community center folks and young families,” came to the free 4:30 show.

For a video report on the Boston Ballet Strand debut, visit nnnonline.org.