I attended my first show as an offical Subscriber.
Imagine my disappointment when I discovered there was no red carpet rolled out for me. I guess I need to give a bit more than my measly $25/ticket to get that sort of treatment.
Never mind, though!
On to the review!
So, I invited my competition (ooohhhh, I haven’t told you about my competition yet, have I, dear reader… well, hang on, it’s going to have to wait for another post… suffice it to say, she is surely friendly competition!) to join me for an evening at the ballet.
We made it to the big city with plenty of time to spare despite dodging drunken hockey fans who were milling about the street. (There was an afternoon game at the Gahhhh-den and the hometown heroes [ew, ick, gag] had won… though, win or lose I’m sure the bars would still have been packed. Perhaps I should note here that I am a rather rabid hockey fan myself, but rather detest the B’s. Boooooo!)
Sorry, back to the subject of ballet.
The doors weren’t yet open, so we hung out in the foyer, people-watching and admiring the architecture. The doors finally opened and, although this probably isn’t great for the ballet, I so appreciated the fact that it was much tamer than the last time I came to see BB (for the nutty Nut). There was no mad jostling or shoving. I was able to stop at the merchandise stand and pick out a beautiful little souvenir for myself:
Who can resist that darling tee? I saw it online and knew I had to have it. Oh, and my subscriber card got me 20% off the price… Perks and bennies!
Seriously, I’m not usually a “gotta-get-the-T-shirt” sorta gal, but this was just so gorgeous I would consider wearing it outside of dance class! Blue (my favorite color) with that stunning graphic image of the upside-down tree and the words woven in so subtly… all in a lovely, soft, fitted, V-neck. Come to me, my pretty!
T-shirt procured, we proceeded to the mezzanine and stopped at the bar for some pre-show refreshments. Because nothing says high class like booze and M&M’s! Although the bartender did whip me up what may be my new favorite drink: Kahlua and Bailey’s on the rocks. Oh YUM!
Since it was still somewhat quiet, we stopped to sip overlooking the lobby, admiring the gorgeous ceiling and sweeping staircase and gilding and such. It’s always nice, when you have the time, to drink in the atmosphere along with your refreshments!
We took our seats up in the mezzanine. Seats weren’t quite as great as I’d been hoping. While I like the vantage point from higher up, our seats were towards the right side, so the wings and part of the stage on our side were obscured. I’ll have to remember this for next time I order!
Time to settle in with the program. As you can guess from the title, this was an evening of pieces choreographed by Jiří Kylián, the Czech-born choreographer in residence and artistic advisor (and former director) of the Nederlands Dans Theater who has been creating pieces since 1970. Boston Ballet has performed works of his previously, but the three on this bill were all BB premieres this season.
I knew going into this that Kylián is not big on the program notes thing. He prefers people to view and come to their own conclusions about the pieces. Which is cool, especially with abstract works, but my inner plebian comes out with some of these when I all I seem to get out of it is, “That was cool.” I hope he’s okay with people just thinking his stuff is cool without coming away with some sort of major message.
I found this particularly true of the first piece, “Wings of Wax” (1997). This is the piece with the giant upside-down tree featured on the T-shirt. And that’s pretty much the first thing you see when the curtain goes up. Giant tree with a spotlight orbiting it. At first I found myself a bit transfixed watching the light, but it soon faded into the scenery. There were four couples in this. For the most part when they weren’t actively dancing they stood upstage in the shadowy part of the stage, but rarely left the stage completely. The dancers were all costumed in black. The men in black shirts and pants. The women in black unitards (two of them in tanks, two of them with long, but sheer sleeves). I don’t remember much in particular about the choreography, but I did get a glimpse of what I think may be Kylián’s signature style (as I saw it echoed in the subsequent pieces)… that of fluidity and an almost one-ness of the partners.
What struck me about his choreography was how… modern it was. When I think of contemporary ballet I tend to think of ballet in a less classical form. I suppose that sounds self-evident. But I’m thinking Balanchine, for example. Still very much ballet, but with a pared-down costuming to highlight the lines moreso than the emotion, sparse sets to highlight the dance rather than the story, but still with an emphasis on length, height, UP. Modern I tend to think of as being very grounded, danced close-to-the-floor, with the stage not just being the place of the dance, but a part of the dance. Lifts are not simply to provide height, but to move a partner and make a gesture. I also think think of modern as expressing emotions quite strongly and even violently. The hands and the face are a vital part of the dance. Partners may push and pull one another instead of simply using each other for support. I also think of modern technique as being more amenable to the avant-garde, and I felt that Kylián fell easily into the realm of avant-garde.
So, while I suppose I could be annoyed with myself for not picking up as much of the meaning of “Wings of Wax” as I might have liked, I think this was, in many ways, a perfect opening piece for an evening of all Kylián. It introduced his style very nicely and prepared me for what was to come.
Intermission one, in which I wonder what exactly they do with the tree (does it go up and hang out in the rafters? or do they have to take it down, and if so how do they keep from breaking the branches/roots? hm…. enquiring minds want to know!). And I watch as new flooring peeks out from underneath the curtain and gets adjusted.
Next up: “Tar and Feathers” (2006). BB is (according to the program notes) the first American company to perform this work. The flooring I mentioned is one of the first things you notice as the curtain rises. It is a very shiny marley – the left side of the stage (as you’re facing it) is black, while the right side is white. On the black side, upstage, is a piano on 10-foot tall stilts. Tomoko Mukaiyama is the pianist and apparently the only person in the world who has accompanied this piece when it is performed. I wonder if she’s the only one willing to perform while perched on a rather small platform up in the air! On the left side is a large, lit up… well, what vaguely resembles a polar bear lying down on its stomach… but it’s made out of bubble wrap and lit up in white light. There is also one couple on each side. On the white side the female dancer starts moving towards the bubble wrap mound and some very frightening growling noises come out of nowhere, causing me to jump in my seat. She has a very fierce face and a piece of bubble wrap in her hand that she twice twists with a violent glee. In my mind I referred to her, throughout the piece, as “the predator.” No idea if that’s what the choreographer intended, but there you go.
For the first half or so, the two couples danced on their own side of the line and I began to wonder about the symbolism of this divide. What did the couple on the black marley side represent? Why was the female on the white marley side so angry and why was the male so passive? And what was the role of the other female who joined them? Eventually there was some crossover and there was a section later where two men crawled out, mostly using their arms to propel them and the woman stood with one foot on each of their backs… made me think of a musher and her sled dogs… either that or some crazy sort of elliptical machine.
While I’m not sure I quite “got” the story or what was being portrayed, this piece definitely pulled me in moreso than the first. I found the various elements fascinating and couldn’t help but marvel at how everything comes together. What did the choreographer think of first? The flooring influenced the dance as it was slippery as well as shiny and allowed the dancers to have more of a sliding quality to their dance. He couldn’t have choreographed it without the special floor. But the floor also played a part in the lighting. Towards the end of the piece the lighting hit the floor so that it reflected onto the black backdrop, silhouetting one of the dancers, but also reflecting the floor itself looking like a reflection from a rippling stream. This wasn’t the only part where the lighting had a role, though. In the beginning you notice a band of white light across the top of the backdrop, except for one spot that reminds me of a sputtering flourescent bulb, the kind that drives you absolutely nuts because of its flickering. At first I thought it WAS a faulty light, until the band of light moved down the backdrop to span across the middle rather than the top and you could see the full effect of this one color-shifting light. And then there’s the music. Not only the elevated (and, according to one article I read, tilted) Steinway, but the fact that Mukaiyama is THE accompanist. There is some music in the piece that is a formal composition (Mozart, I believe), but there is a portion that is pure improvisation. I had to wonder, after 6 or 7 years of performing this, is it really improvisation anymore? Does she really play something different each time? And if so, how do the dancers deal with changing music? Do they just dance and she follows along? There was one point where Mukaiyama stood up and appeared to look over the piano at the couple dancing on the other side of the stage and I wondered if she was looking to them to lead her in selecting the notes. So many questions on this piece.
I couldn’t help but take a peek at the Boston Globe review of All Kylián even though I knew I would get angry (I’m sure the critic is a lovely person, but I’ve disagreed with her on every review I’ve read). This was no different. She felt this piece was contrived and too modern, apparently. I can see how this piece might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but when the curtain went down I felt a bubbling curiousity. There was something here that spoke to me. I’ve seen plenty of modern dance that I felt took itself too seriously and tried way too hard, but this piece was not one of them. I felt there was a strong dose of humor mixed in with the ferocity. It was weird, sure. But I find a lot of the classical story ballets rather weird, too. I would rather like to see “Tar and Feathers” again. From a different vantage point (maybe a little closer to stage!) with all these questions in mind, to see what, if any, answers I come up with.
Second intermission. Phew. Much-needed mental break.
Then the final, and also the oldest, piece: “Symphony of Psalms” (1978). The backdrop for this is made up of a plethora of reddish-colored Persian rugs. The women are in dresses in muted, grey-ish colors. The men are in black pants and grey-ish shirts. While not exciting costumes, somehow it works with the vibrant backdrops. There are four wooden chairs upstage, stage right. The feeling I got from this was almost… I dunno, a European cousin to Ailey’s Revelations. Not sure if I can explain what I mean. I guess I think of Revelations as being an expression of the spirituality and vibrancy of the African American religious tradition. Symphony of Psalms had a similar representation of spirituality, but I felt it was a much more somber, perhaps Puritanical tradition that was expressed. The kneeling and prostration seemed less of an exultation in God’s glory but more of a self-flagellation… I say this as an atheistic person with rather scant knowledge of the world’s religions, so I probably should stop babbling. But that was the feeling I got.
Now a note about the ending of all of this. Nothing to do with the dancers, the choreographer, or the venue, but everything to do with the audience… I was appalled at how many people got up and left at the moment the curtain came down on this piece, before the performers even had a chance to take their bows. Absolutely appalled. To me that is the epitome of rudeness. It is saying to the people who have dedicated hours upon hours of rehearsal, set design, costuming, etc., “You are not important to me.” Hey, now maybe you hated the show. Maybe Kylián makes you want to vomit. Fine. You can feel howsoever you want. That is your right. But regardless of your feelings, you can at least respect the time and work the company, musicians, and house staff put into the production and salute them. Rushing off to catch the train or get your car out of the parking garage before everyone else is simply rude and unnecessary. As a performer, I would be crushed to look out on the audience as I was taking my bows and see everyone rushing for the exits. To me that says, “You are not worthy of my time.” It kind of ruined an otherwise lovely evening.
Back to the show. Was BB’s choice to present a full evening of one, quite distinctive, choreographer a bit risky? Sure. But I think BB presented it stunningly. The three pieces chosen highlighted Kylián’s evolution as a choreographer (though not in a chronological order). I feel as though there are similar elements among the pieces, particularly in his style of dance, but he is in no way repetitive and each is unique. I came away with a huge amount of respect for him along with heightened admiration for the dancers who clearly threw themselves into this very challenging work and pulled it off superbly.
Check out the trailer here:
And a fascinating interview and rehearsal scenes here… I got to see the beautiful Whitney Jensen perform the night I was there. What an incredible dancer!