Is Boston Ballet the Best Ballet Company in America?

Is Boston Ballet the Best Ballet Company in America?
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It's hard to rank dance companies. Different ensembles have different objectives, different audiences, different strengths, different constraints.
That said, there is a strong case to be made that Boston Ballet, under the direction of Mikko Nissinen, has not so stealthily ascended to the supreme position of American ballet companies.
When Nissinen took over Boston Ballet in 2001, he began by upgrading the company and bringing in a new regime of instructors offering much more rigorous classes than anything Boston dancers had experienced in the past.
He believed that strength was a protection against injury and was a major component of excellence and brilliance.
So now Boston had better, and better trained, dancers.
Nissinen says that he views ballet "not as a museum or church but as living theatre."
As a result, he revamped Boston Ballet's programming, opening it up to the traditional, more academic classical ballets , but also more Balanchine ballets and more varied, contemporary choreography from across the globe.
Many companies in the United States restrict themselves to a handful of Balanchine pieces, believing that the rest of the great choreographer's repertoire are either too difficult to perform or too complex for a regional audience to appreciate.
Nissinen bypassed such strictures and dramatically increased the number of Balanchine pieces in Boston's repertoire.
He was not surprised by the warm reception the ballets received.
Balanchine had been an original advisor of Boston Ballet, handpicked some of his works for Boston Ballet's repertoire, and even rehearsed the dancers himself. Boston Ballet and its audience has always had a strong connection to Balanchine and his work.
Under Nissinen, Boston Ballet has also embraced contemporary ballet at a very deep level.
While some other companies around the United States have chosen to avoid contemporary ballet, for fear of alienating traditionalist ticket buyer sensibilities, Nissinen plunged right in.
An example of his commitment to contemporary ballet is the fact that Boston Ballet has performed an extraordinary no fewer than 15 pieces from the repertoire of Kylián and Forsythe, two of the most admired sources of modern pieces.
These include Kylián's Sarabande, Bella Figura, Tar and Feathers, and Wings of Wax, and also Forsythe's In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, Love Songs, The Second Detail, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, and The Vile Parody of Address.
Some critics believe that Boston Ballet, although it draws its dancers from all over the world, lacks the same sort of deep bench that the Paris Opera Ballet or the Bolshoi Ballet can muster.
Nonetheless, for Boston Ballet to be mentioned in the same breath as those august companies, which have a centuries-long head start, is a tribute to how quickly Boston Ballet has risen.
Boston Ballet's partnership with William Forsythe, one of the most respected choreographers in America, has been a huge boon for the company.
The performances this season have been exceptionally crisp, disciplined, and emotive - everything you want in a ballet company.
The famous Saul Steinberg New Yorker cover, which depicts Manhattan as everything and the rest of the country as a few empty fields, applies equally to the way the world of dance is perceived: If you aren't in New York, you aren't anything.
Today's Boston Ballet makes the case for redrawing the map of American ballet.
Nissinen has put Boston at the center of that map.

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