'Ten Part Suite', 'Sarabande', 'Falling Angels', 'In the middle, somewhat elevated'
by Azlan Ezaddin
March 17, 2005 -- Wang Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts
Whether or not balletomanes in Boston will ever admit to consuming pints of green beer, perceived or otherwise, on St Patrick’s Day, many may claim, honestly or through osmosis, to have witnessed a significant event in the world of the performing arts on March 17th of this year. On that evening, their hometown ballet presented a world premiere by Lucinda Childs, a rare commission by an American Ballet company. The premiere notwithstanding, a more significant occasion that will likely never be amply recorded by history, was the moment Boston Ballet entered into an agreement with the American born choreographer, for the oversight by American companies is astounding given that Childs who now lives in France has a strong reputation within the North American modern dance community as well as in performing arts communities in Europe.
Childs’ success with both European ballet and opera companies shouldn’t be surprising considering that lines between new and old, between ballet and modern dance, and for that matter between dance in general and other performance arts are constantly blurred with a passion on the Continent, with a mantra that goes something like “Respect the past but pave the way to the future.” Boston Ballet’s Finnish-born Artistic Director, Mikko Nissinen, seems to have embraced this philosophy, both pushing the envelope of the art form as well as resurrecting lost ballets, like the original “Sleeping Beauty” long discarded by the Royal Ballet. It is ironic – or perhaps by calculated design – that he should find an ally in an American choreographer. In one fell swoop, with the premiere of “Ten Part Suite,” Childs epitomizes this philosophy by combining classical with modern.
Based on “Sonatas for Violin” by Arcangelo Corelli, sometimes simple and happy but most of the time passionate, “Ten Part Suite,” at first impression, appears to embrace all the classical qualities of the music down to the sculptural poses. Even the almost strict pairings of eight couples, bar some simple, stylish ensembles, seem to respect the classical idea of man-woman partnering. On opening night, the prima ballerina and her danseur noble, again a nod to classical tradition, was danced in stately elegance by Lorna Feijoo and Roman Rykine, both artists with a command of finesse. The pas de deux partnering was impeccable and Feijoo, even with a back injury, exuded beauty through confidence. Rykine, known for his solid performances and thoughtful partnering, did exactly just that. He is not known for charming audiences with flair , though, and he certainly did nothing to change that opinion. However his lack of affectation – in spite of his Russian training – was congruous with the other facet of “Ten Part Suite,” its postmodern unpretentiousness.
Childs’ choreography enjoys the crisscrossing of simple shapes with triangles dissecting diagonals, and squares morphing into flat lines. There is elegance in simplicity here that is almost profound in the way it takes a direct approach without the frills. On the surface, the dancing seems plain and monotonous, but the fluid movement, stripped down to its core sans masquerade (what you see is what you get), suggests an exciting geometrical composition, much of which was perhaps lost on those of us watching the performance from the orchestra level. And as if to underline the references to postmodernism, Childs threw in some pedestrian walking for good measure.
Of the twelve dancers that made up the ensemble, Melani Atkins and Rie Ichikawa, stood out – even if the idea of the ballet may have been to express passion collectively – for their beautiful footwork. It is difficult to judge the intent of a world premiere but all the ensemble dancers appeared to have hit stride on opening night from the get-go.
The program also marked Boston Ballet premieres of “Sarabande” and “Falling Angels,” complementary works by Nederlands Dans Theater’s powerchoreographer Jirí Kylián. As if the Childs premiere wasn’t significant enough an event, the performance of the all-men “Sarabande” marks the first time it has been set on any company outside of NDT, a testament to the quality of the male dancers at Boston Ballet or to Nissinen’s ability to follow through on his connections, or both. This Kylián work requires flawless timing, controlled theatrics and, to some degree, an on-stage intelligence that comes from years of performing in the Kylián style.
Jumping, prancing, twisting, rolling and performing other sudden movements to amplified sounds made by their own vocal cords and bodies, all six men, Nelson Madrigal, Carlos Molina, Pavel Gurevich, Jared Redick, Sabi Varga and especially Yury Yanowsky, at times convinced even this jaded balletomane that this was nearly as good a performance as that of NDT’s. There were the inevitable miscues, however, which was not surprising when considering that the only ways for the dancers to keep timing without music on a dimly lit stage are to watch each other and to feel the vibration of the floor.
While “Sarabande” was surrealistic, “Falling Angels,” its female counterpart danced by eight women to Steve Reich’s rhythmic drumming, was a more mesmerizing affair. Requiring Herculean effort, the dancers are required to perform rapid, Taiko-inspired movements practically from start to finish – it is a wonder that any of them could still stand up to take bows. However, lack of rehearsal or perhaps performance time itself prevented this premiere from being a reference performance, especially in the dancers’ positioning in the light wells.
The evening ended with a highly stylish work by yet another American choreographer plying his trade in Europe. William Forsythe has been pushing the envelope of ballet well beyond the ripping point, so much so that many do not believe his works can be called ballets. “In the middle, somewhat elevated” which had its premiere in 1987 by Paris Opera Ballet, is one of his earlier and more accessible works though; accessible anyway to the point where ballet steps can still be discerned. Performed to a pounding, synthetic rock score, this jarring work has a hard edge especially in the sharp and angular movements that seem to defy gravity and anatomy; but it also has a very sexy appeal through both the green skin-tight unitards as well as some slinky movements.
Romi Beppu, Melani Atkins, Yury Yanowsky and an extremely athletic Adriana Suarez were well adept to the language of Forsythe with the subtle reverse neck and limb flicking required to emphasize the steely edge of the work. But as the night wore on, the entire cast seem to become less precise and less angular. And while Karine Seneca was extremely appealing as the “lost girl with the casually slinky movements,” hers was the least sharp performance.
If you are a dance historian, the Wang Theatre would have been the place to be on St Patrick’s Day, if not for the ballet, then for the sight of Lucinda Childs, looking half her age with well-coiffured blond hair and in a smart black designer skirt suit, taking the stage for her bows at the conclusion of her historic world premiere.
Edited by Staff.
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