Moving away from the typical, expected jazz styles found in the other pieces, company dancer Paul Craig’s Sugar Rum Cherry (Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy) is more grounded and surprisingly, the only piece with floor work. The dancers are in tan tops and black pants, bringing a more abstract and less characterized mood. The movement echoes the drumbeats and Craig is cognizant of the importance of subtlety.
Sticking with mostly symmetrical formations, the creativity lies in the steps and transitions. Craig often has dancers take a demure pose by placing a flat palm against the front of their hips and that same palm later goes to the head in a moment of over-heatedness, or maybe one too many rums. The tone of his section brings a darker edge to the program, standing out amongst the bubblegum cheer.
My’Kal Stromile also leaned into more contemporary movements, the overall tone shifting back to buoyant brightness in his Entr’acte. I appreciated the inclusion of more partnering, but the abrupt ending brought a lackluster finish to the piece.
The Volga Vouty (Russian Dance) by John Lam is now the sixth group number we’ve seen in a row and the program gets to feel a bit repetitive. Although, Lam did have a successful canon sequence with the women downstage and the men upstage performing different steps. It also ended nicely with the dancers running upstage, seemingly into the distance.
Arianna Hughlett is a Boston Ballet School post-graduate and took on the task of choreographing Chinoiserie (Chinese Dance). The lighting was most interesting in this piece; the opening had the women downstage fully lit while the men remained upstage in silhouette creating a depth in her patterns. She also had a good use of asymmetry, avoiding the trap of doing large synchronous sections (which can be tempting with group work) and her use of the wings made for a more dynamic piece.
In a much-needed break from the group dances, the five choreographers in the main company perform one by one in Arabesque Cookie (Arabian Dance) and boy, is it refreshing to see some solos.
In an interesting twist, the choreographers were each matched up to a fellow choreographer to create on. The transitions between each simply faded out and in except in two scenarios where the last step of one solo became the first step of the next solo. It would have been more cohesive if every transition did the same.
In the finale, Dance of the Floreadores (Waltz of the Flowers), the dancers return for one last number. Each group did a sort of mini reprise of their group dance, but Stromile’s work in the finale stood out. The dancers did a wonderfully restrained shrug and shuffle dance that brought an understated coolness to the dance. The piece ends by panning outside the theater with the dancers in civilian clothes, moving to the final beats.
The Gift may be a bit fluffy but remains a creative way to reinterpret the Nutcracker Suite and a wonderful way to listen to Ellington’s score.