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Boston Ballet brings the funk

by Bonnie Rosenstock
June 26, 2014
Lincoln Center
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On the final leg of its 50th anniversary celebration season before heading home, Boston Ballet stopped off at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater to present two programs, from June 25 to June 29. One featured a Balanchine classic from 1972, a Nijinsky oldie from 1912, and two more recent works. The other program consisted of three contemporary ballets. A friend's daughter, who is in the corps de ballet, suggested I opt for the latter, the "un-Balanchine program," as she put it. I am glad I took her advice.

"The Second Detail," by renowned American contemporary choreographer William Forsythe (with dissonant, but not distracting, music by Thom Willems), had its world premiere in 1991 at The National Ballet of Canada in Toronto. Boston Ballet added it to its repertoire in 2011. As the program notes tell us, "[Forsythe's] work is acknowledged for reorienting the practice of ballet from its identification with classical repertoire to a dynamic 21st-century art form." What I take this to mean is that the dancers can still be en pointe, do jetés, rond de jambes and all those other pas without being confined solely to the classical canon. I suppose that's why my favorite company way back last century was not the staid New York City Ballet, but the more risk-taking Joffrey Ballet, now residing in Chicago. I love the arc of classically trained bodies performing off-beat works that show off their versatility and street smarts. No surprise, then, that Forsythe began as an apprentice with the Joffrey.

The performers, dressed in pale gray leotards, danced solos and filled the stage with various deft pairings (there were 14 dancers altogether). The ladies and lads worked their classical chops, but then, surprise, a Twyla Tharp moment, an off-kilter, contorted foot, leg or upper body movement, which changed the dynamic and kept us on our toes.

The only false step came when Erica Cornejo literally burst onto the stage, dressed in a white off-the-shoulder puffy dress, ran around doing some back and front kicks, flopped around like a rag doll, lay down on the floor and smiled a lot. She was having a grand old time, but it was a coda that couldn't.

"Resonance" by Spanish choreographer José Carlos Martínez, who is head of the Compañía Nacional de Danza in Madrid, had its world premiere at Boston Ballet in 2014. There were moveable screens, which hid and revealed two solo pianists playing some lovely Liszt, as well as the dancers. The wonderful lighting created large silhouettes on the panels.

Boston Ballet has a deep, 56-member pool of talent to choose from. They include every ballet body type imaginable, from long-legged Balanchinesque women to the painfully thin and petite. One interesting sequence featured trios of these two extreme types juxtaposed on opposite sides of the stage, while the in-betweens deftly danced on either side of them.

"Cacti" (2010), choreographed by the Swedish Alexander Ekman, was a succulent dance triumph, very Pina Bausch post-modernist—movement, sound, quirky stage set, and yes, a lot of cacti. The stage was commandeered by what seemed to be a cast of thousands (there were sixteen), on raised platforms of different levels. There was also an adept wandering string quartet, who played improvised pieces as well as the classically composed. The dancers slapped and beat the platforms rhythmically and furiously, à la Japanese taiko drums. They knelt, ran, fell, jumped, writhed with exuberance on and off the platforms. Later, the platforms were moved about and piled up into interesting sculptural forms. A voiceover amusingly narrated a duet's thoughts or anticipated their idiosyncratic movement interactions. Less successful were the other spoken recordings, which prattled on about the cacti, or Life as cacti, or some such thing. Ekman's intention was to parody the affectations of dance, but in doing so, created his own affectation. Overall, however, this oddball dance piece was a joyful crowd pleaser.

"Cacti" received three award nominations abroad—a Swan in Holland in 2010 for best new dance production; "Best New Modern Choreography" in 2012 by the UK Critics Circle; and an Olivier in the UK—but is not so loved on this side of the pond. Although one NY critic, whom I shall leave nameless, went so far as to declare the program (and "Cacti" in particular) as "entirely loathsome," I declare it just the jolt of adrenaline that needs to be injected into sclerotic ballet choreography (and ballet critics') veins.
John Lam in Forsythe's 'The Second Detail.'

John Lam in Forsythe's "The Second Detail."

Photo © & courtesy of Gene Schiavone


Alexander Ekman's 'Cacti'. Photo: ©RAHIRZVANI

Alexander Ekman's "Cacti". Photo: ©RAHIRZVANI


Alexander Ekman's 'Cacti'. Photo: ©RAHIRZVANI

Alexander Ekman's "Cacti". Photo: ©RAHIRZVANI

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