Last night I went to my first Works & Process discussion of the Fall season to investigate the Boston Ballet, who will soon be performing as part of the Fall For Dance Festival at City Center. These Works & Process events held by the Guggenheim Museum, by the way, are really a good value. For only $25 you can see, in a very intimate setting, prestigious dance companies perform new pieces from their upcoming reps, and hear the artistic directors and/or choreographers talk about the works.
Last night’s program featured speakers Mikko Nissinen, Boston Ballet’s artistic director, and choreographers Helen Pickett and Jorma Elo. Elo is the main reason I wanted to attend, as I have loved both of the two very modern ballets I’ve thus far seen of his: “Slice to Sharp” performed by New York City Ballet; and “Glow Stop” by my favorite American Ballet Theater This makes me a bad person, as dance critics just lurve to hate Elo 😉 I guess many find him vapid and aerobic. But I think his ballets are fast, fun, sharp and bedazzling, and they both showcase the dancers’ athletic abilities with their numerous mid-air turns, high jumps, and fast precise footwork, and take dancers out of their comfort zone (as this favorite of mine once put it) which, in a weirdly extended way, does the same to us.
Anyway, tonight’s piece of his, an excerpt from “Break the Eyes” was the best thing I’ve seen by him yet. The music alternated between a section consisting of heavy, disconcerting, foreboding sounds (at first sounded almost like something out of “Jaws”), and was accompanied by the voice of a young woman breathing frantically and speaking urgently in Finnish, and a section of sweetly mellifluous Mozart piano music. A solitary ballerina danced to the foreboding soundscape, her movements at the start sharp, jerky, and frazzled, which became less so as the ballet went on. The Mozart pieces were danced by a small ensemble whose dance vocabulary — pretty partnering, lifts, quick-paced but mellifluous allegro steps — mirrored the flowing music, the solitary ballerina’s angular, harried, awkward movements a stark contrast to theirs. As the piece developed, the music was at times played together, the frantic Finnish woman’s voice crying out over, disrupting the Mozart. The ensemble and solitary ballerina seemed to struggle with and react against each other, eventually helping to define each other. The dance was intriguing: though I didn’t “get” everything the first time around, as I never do with abstract ballets, there was a real development there, a kind of story, and I felt Elo was trying to say something, making me curious to see it again. I’ll get that chance with Fall For Dance, as Elo’s is the piece the company will perform.
Boston Ballet, as Nissinen explained, seeks to perform a blend of contemporary and classical ballet. Ballet, he said, is “not just a church or museum, but must pave the way for the future.” I like that, and it’s true. There’s nothing more beautiful and romantic and fairytalish than classical ballet, but for the art to stay alive, there must be new along with old. (What if the only plays performed on all of Broadway were by Shakespeare? Going to theater would be a historical enterprise, like visiting a museum.) In this vein, the company also presented a Swan Lake pas de deux — you realize just how beautiful classical ballet is, what genius possessed Ivanov, and how iconic Tchaikovsky is when you see something like this juxtaposed with the modern — along with an excerpt from the first professional work by new choreographer Helen Pickett. Interestingly, Pickett said her process was to choreograph a dancer’s solo, then allow the five or so others sharing the stage to improvise their own moves, taking cues from the soloist’s movement “reading” her vocabulary and reacting to it. She said it was empowering to the dancer, which I can see. Still think I’d be very nervous making up my own movement right on the spot before an audience though!