By Jennifer Brewer
Portland Ballet Company’s production of “Boy Meets Girl” is a must-see. It premiered Saturday evening and will be performed again next weekend in the ballet company’s new studio theater.
At just over one hour in length, the ballet provides a splash of warmth in midwinter and a charming lead-in to Valentine’s Day.
Polished and appealing, “Boy Meets Girl” is a light romance performed to 21 of the most enduring popular songs from the first half of the last century. Choreographers Nell Shipman and Roberto Forleo created solos, duets and small-group dances that capture the spirit of each song, from “Beyond the Sea” to “That’s Amore,” using a seamless blend of movements from ballet, modern dance, jazz and the social dancing of the day.
The performance moved from one song to the next smoothly, so that there was no sense of disjointed “dance numbers,” but rather a gently woven set of mini-stories for the ensemble of 16 dancers portraying the guests and wait staff of a classic Italian restaurant. The dancers entered in groups and remained on stage throughout, sitting and interacting at tables (complete with red-checked tablecloths and “wine”) while not dancing.
Sweet and silly moments were woven into the dancing. For example, in “Cheek to Cheek” and “Embraceable You,” Forleo and Deborah Grammatic illustrated the song titles briefly at beginning and end, with smiles to the audience as if to say, “Here you go, we’re cheek to cheek like the song says!”
When Erica Diesl and Amelia Bielen (billed as “Unlucky in Love”) danced in black lace in contrast to the other women’s satiny period frocks, Megan Buckley led Kelsey Harrison, Colleen Edwards and Eliana Trenam (collectively, “Girls Night Out”) in amusing scorn that later turned to acceptance.
Both groups of women showed support for Lexa Daniels (“Girl Without a Date”), who performed “Someone to Watch Over Me” as a poignant solo. She was invited into small-group dancing and eventually nudged into romance with the lonely Waiter, Derek Clifford.
“Boy Meets Girl” is essentially an ensemble piece, not a platform for virtuosity, but each dancer had his or her shining moments.
Forleo, in his first performance with the company, was gorgeous, expressing every nuance of the music throughout his body to his fingertips. Bielen’s solo to “The Man I Love” was very strong, especially in brilliant extended balances within half-turns. Also new to the company, Junichi Fukuda partnered with Jennifer Jones well and gave hints as to how he might fly on a larger stage.
Buckley, although not especially featured in this piece, helped carry the performance stylistically. Perhaps the most of any of the dancers, she caught the character of the songs with “in the music” precision and used facial expressions and gestures to excellent effect while sitting at her table as on-stage audience.
Portland Ballet’s new theater is an intimate and comfortable space. Dancing so close to the audience can be a great challenge, especially on pointe. These performers carried if off beautifully, both during their own dancing parts and while watching each other’s dancing. At times, it seemed that a little more distance would make it easier to fully appreciate the choreography, but generally the effect was pleasing, drawing the audience into the intimate ambience.
“Boy Meets Girl” is a piece with wide-ranging appeal. Its brevity and pacing, combined with accessibility of style and story line, are ideal for audience members with less interest in classical ballet, while the high quality of the choreography and dancing should be enough to delight any dance fan.
Jennifer Brewer is a freelance writer who lives in Saco.Tweet