Right now the show I consider to be the highlight of Boston Ballet’s 2012-2013 season is going on… Chroma!!!
Originally titled something snoozerific like “Spring Program,” Mikko Nissinen made the wise choice to retitle the bill to honor their premiere of Wayne McGregor’s incredible work. The show also featured two Balanchine works — Serenade and Symphony in C.
It was a gorgeous Saturday and the city of Boston was bustling with people alternately celebrating the food truck festival, the Kentucky Derby, and the Bruins playoff game. So lovely to see the city swarming with people. In the playbill both Nissinen and Barry Hughson (the executive director) addressed the recent tragedies in our city and spoke to the power of the arts to highlight the beauty that mankind can create and the sense of community we strengthen when we share an experience such as going to the ballet together.
The first piece was Serenade, which I saw NYCB do a couple years ago at SPAC. I thought the costuming looked familiar, though that was about all I remembered about the piece. The women are dressed in light blue leotards with a long, white, soft tulle skirt over top. I did remember seeing a tumble or two at NYCB at the hands of this costume and sadly saw one dancer slip last night on her skirt. My heart just breaks for the dancer when something like that happens! Aside from that brief moment, though, the piece was simply stunning. The dancer who stole my heart on this one was Seo Hye Han who, according to the playbill, is a member of the corps de ballet, but was a lead in this production. Her fluidity and her facial expression was so exquisite… Absolutely breathtaking. I won’t be surprised if I see that she’s been named a soloist next year.
One of the things I adore about this piece is the use of shapes and lines. His choreography for the leads is, of course, gorgeous, but the stuff the corps does is equally gorgeous. The lines they make, the interaction among the dancers, all just amazing. I found this YouTube video from NYCB with Ashley Bouder which I think sums up the piece nicely and gives you a little taste of the piece.
The ending, in particular, makes you want to cry or, at the very least, jump out of your seat and cheer wildly. Oh, and there was also one part where the Waltz Girl (I didn’t know the girls had different roles, but now, thanks to Ashley, I do!) is on the floor and one of the other female leads and her partner come out and the other girl does an arabesque en pointe in front of the Waltz girl while her partner kneels behind and turns her in a promenade (en pointe) by spinning her at the leg. I was amazed that the audience didn’t clap for that… it looks easy, but anyone who has been en pointe knows that it isn’t… especially to perform it without a moment off-balance. Stunning. Oh, and Tchaikovsky… that music. Sigh.
And now for something completely different.
CHROMA!!! Originally created for the Royal Ballet. I stumbled across another YouTube video of them performing this a couple years ago and fell in love with it from that alone. This is not the entire piece, by the way, but if you go to YouTube you can find the rest of it.
I was absolutely thrilled to see that Boston Ballet was going to be performing it this year. Now the one thing about watching a video and seeing it live is that you don’t get that perfect perspective. The video shows everything straight on and can zoom in on the faces and the individual dancers. When you’re stuck up in the mezzanine everything suddenly seems painfully far away. I am considering going back and watching this again from a different seat, hopefully one on the orchestra level and closer to the stage, because I want to see more. On the plus side, when watching a video the music comes across as much less dynamic. The Boston Ballet Orchestra rocked this one out. Seriously. The music was so intense. And how did I never notice before now that a good chunk of the music is Jack White’s (formerly of the White Stripes). The Hardest Button part was perhaps my favorite… that song made orchestral gave me a total adrenaline rush, so I can only imagine what it did for the dancers.
As for the dancers, I mean… wow, to go from Serenade which is contemporary, but very pretty, flowy, ballet-ish, to Wayne McGregor’s crazy inversions and intense moves… yet another testament to the versatility today’s ballet dancer must have. BB came through, as always, in tremendous fashion. Oh, and the set… I absolutely love the set. Ours came courtesy of the National Ballet of Canada… I was wondering if they had to build their own. As you can see from the video it looks like the dancers are in a big white box with just one entrance on either side and then the square hole in the back which dancers enter and then step over onto the main stage. I really… I just… I need more Chroma, please!!!
What particularly thrilled me about this was how much the audience loved it. I know contemporary stuff can be a bit risky and some ballet-goers just don’t like it. I saw some people disappear during intermissions of All Kylián, for example. But after this the audience was on its feet, applauding and cheering loudly. They did me proud on that one!
Another intermission in which we collect ourselves and calm down to get ready for the more sedate Symphony in C.
This… perhaps my least favorite piece of the evening. Which is not meant to be negative, simply that after the gorgeousness of Serenade and the hair-raising adventure of Chroma the audience member is a bit spent and Symphony in C is a bit, hm… floofy. It’s got the more traditional looking dancers in their tutus dancing prettily. But, upon reflection, this was probably the best way to end the evening. Brings the tone back down a bit.
There are four movements in this piece with a finale that features 52 dancers on stage at the same time. Fifty-two!!! That is simply amazing and breathtaking all on its own. I believe there were some BBS students included in that, as well. It might sound crazy to say that I had a favorite dancer among 52, but Jeffrey Cirio in the third movement was mine. His jumps and leaps make him appear weightless. He lands like a cat, without a sound, and then springs back up again. The other men are terrific, as well, but he just has this quality that makes it look simply effortless and incredibly fun. All the dancers were incredible, of course. Though there was one corps dancers whose port de bras drove me batty. I realize that there are different schools of thought on the wrists and how straight they should be, but her port de bras looked perpetually broken at the wrist and it was maddeningly distracting.
After seeing two Balanchine pieces on this particular evening my respect for his choreography increased moreso. The way he uses the music is simply incredible. It’s like the score and the choreography were made to go together. The steps highlight all the right parts in the music. Being both a musician and a dancer it just seems so… right! The other thing I love is his use of technique and simplicity. I obviously respect boundary-breaking and funkiness in dance, but there’s something, too, to be said for pure, clean technique. Sometimes through the simplicity the audience can focus more on the emotion being expressed. I always think of pliés and tendus as those things you do in class because it’s good for you and it’s the basis of so much of our movement. Balanchine manages to make them dance steps that look good! All on their own. The corps doing a nice tendu en croix with port de bras is suddenly a stunning frame for the action in the center.
Altogether a lovely evening of dancing capped by a special treat after the show: one of Mikko Nissinen’s post-show talks in the lobby. He, Russell Kaiser (the assistant artistic director), and Ashley Ellis (a soloist according to the program, but, as Nissinen announced to us, now a principal dancer!) chatted with the group that remained about the program, upcoming events, and the BB 50th anniversary season coming up in a few short months. There were some great audience questions about how long it took to prepare the works and how the dancers are chosen for different pieces. It surprised me to learn that the rehearsal time is actually fairly limited. After hearing exactly how many things the group has in the works at any given time — I mean, not only do they have the home season in the works, but they’re also putting together different pieces to perform in Washington DC and in London — it amazes me that they can present everything so professionally. Of course, I imagine that for dancers who have been around a few years, much of what they do is in the rep, so when they approach it to prepare for a performance it’s not like everything coming at them is brand new. They’ve seen it before and it’s a matter of simply relearning, tidying, etc. Plus, I realize I’m looking at this from the perspective of a recreational dancer. I only get to work on pieces for an hour or two a week. They are doing many more pieces, but since it’s their job working on them day in and day out for a few weeks will yield much greater results than my sporadic practice. But still… impressive, nonetheless.
I really am seriously considering heading back for a second helping of Chroma before the run ends next weekend. If you’re in the area I suggest you get at least one dose in. You won’t regret it.