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Boston Ballet

'Drink to Me with Thine Eyes'

by S.E. Arnold

March 27, 2004 -- Boston, Massachusetts

The Boston Ballet “Drink to Me” program included four works and two intermissions; the sharp contrast between the evening’s first two and final two works, however, aesthetically divided the program neatly in half rather than thirds.

Although it is hazardous to describe either "Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes," choreographed by Mark Morris to series of piano etudes composed by Virgil Thompson, or "Duo Concertant," choreographed by Balanchine to the eponymous work for violin and piano by Stravinsky, as "classically romantic," the ancient Greek source of Ben Jonson’s patched together love poem "To Celia" or "Drink to Me," the classical forms of bucolic poetry that title sections of Stravinsky’s music such as Eglogue I & II and "Dithyrambe," and the transparent formality and lyricism of both choreographies, the terms seem apt.

In contrast, "Plan to B," choreographed by Jorma Elo to four pieces for violin, keyboard (which sounded like a harpsichord), and organ by Baroque composer, Von Biber and "Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion," choreographed by Val Caniparoli to the eponymous work by Bela Bartok, are like the art and architecture of the Baroque era abundant in detail and persuasive. Yet, for all of the differences between the fair weather light, charm, and poignancy of the works by Morris and Balanchine and the dark breezy worrisome-ness of the stormy works by Elo and Caniparoli, the compositional device of imitation or canon linked one side of the concert with the other. In fact and to indulge in a second hazardous observation, the contrapuntal organization and development manifest in "Drink to Me," for example, by short motifs rather than a longer phrases, parallels that of Bartok. Even though this borrowed musical analysis, which wants to focus on the atomic elements of structure, seems to border on the mystical, it was nevertheless prompted by the short interval between the entries of the bodies dancing the same motifs in "Drink to Me." Musically, the notes sounded by the first "voice" that accompany the second entrance of motif One, for example, become the second motif. In this way, the longer phrases one sees in "Drink to Me" can be viewed as a string of motifs. Whether based on an unassuming porta bra by Morris or a chromatic half-step progression by Bartok, the flowing threads of motivic chains woven by either artist look and feel uncontrived and are, therefore, accessible bearers of meaning.

Whereas the choreography of "Drink to Me" pictures a beamish extroverted-ness and Balachine’s "Duo Concertant" depicts, a la the Afternoon of a Faun, a mortal male dancer’s (even though one hears themes from Apollo in the music) wishful wooing of Terpsichore, the endless barrage of jumps, traveling jumps, rippling and swiveling torsos, and combative porta bras makes "Plan to B" a reconnaissance by pain into hitherto unnamed regions of muscle, sinew, and joint. Alike in virtuosity, yet out of joint with the music, the choreography ripped across the odd tuning or double-stopped bowing that made Von Biber an important figure in music history. No matter. "Plan to B" was a race, and the three stands adorned with rows of work lights, one of which glared into the audience, and the titled silvery plywood shaped object that blocked the right stage legs turned the dance space into a pit stop. No time. Late. Hurry. Go. Missed & Gone went the dance. But alas the denizens of this frenzied world never achieved the efficiency of a race team. It was clear, however, in the performances given by the Saturday matinee and evening casts of two female and six male dancers that they were on the edge of rapture and readily brought the audience with them.

Set on twelve dancers, six each female and male, costumed in dark red three quarter length dresses and pointe shoes for the ladies and for the males pants and tank tops, Caniparoli’s excursion into Bartok remains on the evidence of only two viewings a haunting enigma. Where the compositional devices used by Morris, for example, reflect those of Bartok, Caniparoli’s choreography looked, one thinks, to the larger structures of the Sonata. There are reoccurring signature poses, for example, that functioned as signposts highlighting certain moments in the music rather than movement that in addition to being informed by and commenting on the music also spoke for itself. And the dominance of the work’s female/male partnering seemed rather impersonal in spite of Bartok’s biting dissonances, jabbing rhythms, and impressionistic clouds of sound. Although bold, the partnering emphasized the "for two" aspect of the Sonata’s title rather than its quartet conception -- Bartok scored the work for two pianists and two percussionists. And so the pas de deux to the Sonata’s second movement was, for this viewer, mesmerizing particularly in its eye-fooling aspects where the relationship in the lifts between right and left or in front and behind of vanished appeared like ‘a melody in the mist.’

Matching the singular pleasure of the dance and dancing of the "Drink to Me" concert, however, was the singular pleasure of its musical performances. One points out that the "Drink to Me" concert offered the public the rare opportunity to hear piano and chamber works by Thompson, Stravinsky, Von Biber, and Bartok played live and well.

Edited by Holly Messitt

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