|| The Boston Globe
|| April 30, 2011
|| Thea Singer
Boston Ballet’s production of Jirí Kylián’s “Bella Figura’’ (1995) strikes like a lucid dream, that place where consciousness infiltrates sleep to forge creative links that hover on the brink of logic. Some inventors say it’s where their most innovative ideas arise. The dance — a shifting sea of black, red, and bare skin — was the highlight of last evening’s concert of contemporary ballets, which also included William Forsythe’s pristine “The Second Detail’’ (1991), and three works by Helen Pickett, including two world premiers.
“Bella Figura’’ is an Italian expression that means putting the best face forward at all times. Kylián has taken that concept of play acting to an extreme: The dance, set to selections of Baroque music by composers including Lukas Foss, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, and Antonio Vivaldi, unfolds like a play within a play, with each subsequent stage smaller than its predecessor, thanks to curtains closing from above and the sides, and even wrapping around a twitching bare-breasted woman. Indeed, the piece opens with the house lights on, the dancers, warming up, flanked by two hanging life-size dummies in clear plastic boxes.
The dancing occurs in duets more often than not, with the nine dancers ricocheting from jutting hips and turned-in knees to locking-and-popping arms and fetal position curls that plummet into drops. A tap to a foot is enough to send someone spinning. The drama is inherent in the movement, even before a crowd emerges, chests bare, in long red skirts (men and women alike). “Bella Figura’’ is at once delightful, troubling, and moved by grace: A partner’s hand on a shrugged shoulder relaxes everything like an exhaled breath.
Where Kylián’s piece is hot — there are even barrels lit with fire on the set — Forsythe’s “The Second Detail’’ is as cold as ice. Even the costumes deliver a chill: They’re all a bluish-gray.
A piece for 14 set to Thom Willems’s creaking, clanging rhythmic score, “The Second Detail’’ appears to now expand, now contract the entire stage as traffic alters geometry: Loose-limbed solos give way to sauntering group walks which morph into trios backed by multitudes, or dancers sitting, in various permutations, in chairs lining the upstage wall. Facing out is a simple sign, the word the underlining the activity.
And then a white-hot spark erupts. Lorna Feijóo, barely recognizable in a dark chin-length wig and Issey Miyake folds of white, whirls onstage, swaying her hips, flailing her limbs, running wild. She’s flat-footed, not on point, like the other women, an earthy counterpoint to their austerity. She collapses on her back, and a man kicks over the sign the. What you see is what you get, the gesture seems to say. Until it isn’t.
Helen Pickett’s contribution is a three-part tribute to composer Arvo Pärt. Part I, “Layli O Majnun,’’ a world premier, is inspired by an ancient story of star-crossed lovers. It was danced with nuance and lyricism by Larissa Ponomarenko and Yury Yanowsky as the lovers, but the character of Madness, played by Lorin Mathis, was a puzzle: Why did Pickett even have him there, shuddering in the darkness? Lia Cirio, in Part II, “Tsukiyo’’ (Moonlit Night), which premiered here in 2009, is translucent; every muscle and fiber in her body is pulled to the breaking point as she intertwines with Sabi Varga, whose very touch bespeaks adoration. But Part III, “Tabula Rasa,’’ also a world premier baffled with its intent. The chandelier glowing overhead, now blue, now white, had more structure than the action of the eight spinning, semaphor-armed dancers beneath it.