The Concert (Or, the Perils of Everybody) proves so humorously offbeat and entertaining that one might view the piece as Boston Ballet’s most un-balletic shot at a broader audience. For starters, it’s choreographed by Broadway icon Jerome Robbins, perhaps best known for West Side Story—even though he also worked in classical ballet. And despite its prop-driven gags around a nearly un-distractible pianist who inspires quirky behavior among onstage listeners and dancers, The Concert injects enough elements of classic ballet to balance its musical farce.
That third piece on the program Robbins/The Concert also provides a perfect antithesis to Boston Ballet’s concurrent offering The Sleeping Beauty, which likewise runs through May 27 at the Opera House, bringing the company’s 2016-2017 season to an expanded end. If you want classical ballet with a Tchaikovsky score, elaborately rich sets and costumes, and endless court dances, The Sleeping Beauty can transport you. If you just wanna have fun, even if you don’t know the finer point(es) of ballet, The Concert hits the right notes.
Robbins/The Concert also serves a double-dipping taste of more serious and stark ballet in the world premiere of resident choreographer Jorma Elo’s Creatures of Egmont and a Boston Ballet premiere in Stravinsky Violin Concerto, choreographed by 20th century master George Balanchine.
Friday’s opening Balanchine entry was a vision in black and white, dancers rolling in and out of symmetrical patterns, from soloists and backing quartets to pas-de-deux turns (highlighted by Lia Cirio and John Lam) that practically merged into a graceful hoedown that nearly suggested a coincidental nod to West Side Story. And Elo’s Creatures of Egmont followed suit to a more melancholy mood in pale-blue lighting and costuming, breaking into airy pirouettes and flourishes rooted in angular formations to music of Beethoven, Bach and Schumann, again deftly accompanied by the Boston Ballet Orchestra under conductor David Briskin.
Company pianist Freda Locker takes the stage solo for The Company itself, and the piece’s slapstick tone is quickly set by her false starts and fussing with a dusty keyboard before launching into Chopin. Characters then arrive with folding chairs for a game of optimal positioning that naturally breaks down into awkward and jealous exchanges. On Friday’s opening night, Lasha Khozashvili nailed a Groucho Marx-styled husband with a wandering eye while Kathleen Breen Combes embodied the enticing free spirit that helps propel the ensemble into an eye-popping routine with umbrellas. Add a corps de ballet number with one woman who can’t get in sync and a metamorphosis into butterflies that gets Locker off her seat, and The Concert delivers a universal delight.