Boston Ballet’s final performance at the London Coliseum began and ended with George Balanchine:  Serenade to open the programme, and Symphony in Three Movements to close it, with Vaslav Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun and Jorma Elo’s Plan to B in between.

This Serenade was a very different to the Maryinsky’s, which I saw in London in 2009.  Boston Ballet’s dancers were less perfectly uniform in appearance and style than the Russians, but what they lacked in precision they made for with a confident athletic vigour that gave them ownership of the ballet.  Afternoon of a Faun was less successful.  It had the look and feel of a reconstruction, and although the music and Bakst’s gorgeous autumnal designs were enthralling, the movement was stilted rather than exotic.  Perhaps the problem is that this ballet no longer scandalises us.  We are used to seeing bare feet, men in clinging tights and eroticism on stage, but the shock factor has not been replaced by anything else.

Elo’s Plan to B was absolutely the audience’s favourite, but not mine.  Danced by a cast of six with speed and virtuosity, it pushed the dancers to the physical limit.  Long, high extensions, exhilarating turns and the sheer velocity of the work seized attention, but this seemed to me to be yet another twenty-first century ballet that offered more to the men than to the women, who were sometimes thrust to and fro like hyper-mobile dolls.  After the astonishing beauty of Bakst’s colour palette, the grungy mauve-grey costumes were depressing, and the unflattering cut of the women’s leotards made even these dancers’ legs look short.

The final ballet, Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements was both beautiful and disappointing.  Elegantly costumed in immaculate, dazzlingly perfect practice clothes, there was some strong, gracefully sassy dancing, but a feeling of diminished energy.  It was as if they were already half packed to go, and the failure to keep lines straight and spacing accurate detracted from the ballet’s essential geometry.  The men did not even always keep time with each other, landing their jumps out of synch.  A strength and weakness of the company is that the dancers do not all have a perfectly uniform appearance, and this presents particular challenges for corps de ballet work, but perhaps carelessness also crept in during their final ballet in London.  Nevertheless they are a fine company, and it is to be fervently hoped that we do not have to wait another 30 years for their next visit to the Coliseum.

Maggie Watson

7 July 2013