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Boston Ballet

'Ten Part Suite,' 'Falling Angels,' 'In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated', 'Sarabande'

Electrifying Heaven, Life & Death, and Purgatory.

by Steve Arnold

March 19, 2005 -- Wang Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts

Appropriately, the music of Arcangelo Corelli filled the chaste "Ten Part Suite," choreographed by Lucinda Childs especially for the Boston Ballet, with the serenity proper to Heaven. Accompanied by violinist Jason Horowitz, cellist Ronald Lowery, and harpsichordist Freda Locker, the seven male and female dancers costumed in anemic pink casual wear, including character shoes for the ladies, danced basically three steps: chasse en tournent, a pique arabesque and attitude, and simple sautés. Additionally, the most ear catching structural feature of the ten parts selected by Childs from the dozens of parts for Corelli’s Op. 5 set of 12 Sonatas for Violin was imitation and/or repetition. Repetition in the choreography often paralleled that in the music and in the breezy ensemble sections sequences of repeated figures marked the entrances or exits of dancers.

Save for the vivid blue atmosphere of "Ten Part Suite’s" final passage, the lighting, apt for a Heavenly environment, was uniformly bright - but not too bright. Given the basically homophonic sound, the limited choreographic material, the importance of repetition both to the dance as well as the music, the near invisibility of the costumes, including the very light gray for the cavalier and his mistress, and the aptly static lighting it all adds up to a minimalist, but smiling Heaven made after Plato.

Given the logical simplicity implied by Jiri Kylian’s description of his "Sarabande" and "Falling Angels" as ‘black and white’ ballets, one might think that each would be at home in the Heaven pictured by Childs. For these works, however, the words refer to Kylian’s unflinching black and white photograph-like perspective on the subject matter as well as describing the stark lighting, the costumes, and props. And, as if to emphasize the ‘fall’ from Heaven, "Sarabande" opened with the resounding crash of six male dancers being pushed into life. They were birthed by a Petite Mort-like prop: an imposing black 18th century hoop skirt open to reveal an textured petticoat topped by an open and sleeveless bodice.

Lifted to a ‘somewhat elevated’ height for the duration of "Sarabande", the props functioned as sound boxes for the microphones that capture the choreographed dancer generated noises. These sounds, amplified and altered almost beyond recognition, served as the sound track for the work’s opening sections. And, by virtue of their awkward, weighted, and spontaneous looking movement, one identified these as birth, self-awareness, and potty training.

When Bach’s Sarabande movement from the Partia (not Partita) #2 in D for violin finally enters the dance, it brings the design, civility, and the maturity its title implies with it. But life must in a fallen world yield to death. And, "Sarabande" ends the way it begins - with a stylized depiction of transition. With clear references, one thinks, to Edvard Munch’s The Scream and the ‘passing through a tunnel of light’ phenomenon of near death experiences, the men pass into darkness.

With scant pause between the pieces, eight female dancers costumed in black leotards and slippered feet advance stealthily in a line abreast from the darkness. "Falling Angels," set to the first movement of ‘Drumming,’ composed by Steve Reich, begins with a simple rhythmic pattern tapped by stick on an a bongo drum. Soon the loom of Reich’s phase shifting technique weaves the copied and re-copied rhythmic threads into billowing veils of energy. In a sense, these veils became the net of history into which the angels fall.

Choreographically in the beginning, the Angels’ movement reflects their efforts to maintain their abstract purity, yet whether seduced by curiosity and/or corporeal pleasures, they directly personalize into human females. One could tell, for in addition to their appearance, they got pregnant. In a movement series repeated at least twice, the ladies tugged at the front part of their leotards indicating their maternal state and showing, one thinks, the consequence of the inviting smiles and sexy movement that preceded it. And, whether pulled by the weight of years or pounded in by the now persecuting volume of the drumming, the ladies mimicking Munch’s famous gesture sink to the floor. At lights out, the ladies fashion an ambiguous posture that at once speaks of death and continuity. Elbow braced, heads thrown back, legs apart with knees slightly elevated they rest on their backs and could picture the pain of childbirth, sexual ecstasy, or rigor mortis.

Even the title of William Forsythe’s piece abandons its seven each male and female dancers to the purgatory it holds. After all, "In the middle, somewhat elevated" describes the position of an insignificant prop rather than any form of music, dance, or other human activity. Moreover, the work’s score, composed by Thom Willem, is free of all musical virtue; and likewise the four huge instrument packed towers stationed at the legs on either side of the stage refuse their promise of light.

Yet, in spite of this oppressive atmosphere, the piece has a sense of spontaneity. For example, the dancers, costumed in class or rehearsal ready wear including pointe shoes casually enter and exit both their center work and the dance space. Additionally, they unselfconsciously stop and re-start apparently bungled combinations and attentively work on their own in the dimly lit margins seemingly oblivious to the exciting turns of dancing taking place at center stage. Nevertheless, Willem’s Harpy-like score manages to foul every savory moment of the choreography and blight its marvelous energy. Moreover, the score renders the repeated set of steps that structure of "In the middle, somewhat elevated" into a syllabus for pandemonium.


Edited by Staff.

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