|| The New York Times
|| May 3, 2011
|| Roslyn Sulcas
The stage, washed in white light, looks enormous when the curtain goes up on William Forsythe’s “Second Detail,” the opening piece on the Boston Ballet triple bill at the opera house here. Twelve dancers, dressed in the palest gray leotards and tights — some facing the audience, some with their backs to us — are arrayed in lines and diagonals, their bodies etched against the space with cut-glass clarity. Thom Willem’s electronic score offers a hesitant, knocking rhythm, and then a 13th dancer, a woman, walks on quietly and takes her place in a line.
The reference might be to Balanchine’s “Serenade.” Although the jazzy, percussive “Second Detail” is worlds away from the elegiac sweep of that ballet, Mr. Forsythe’s Balanchine heritage is utterly clear in this work, created for the National Ballet of Canada in 1991.
As “The Second Detail” bursts into multifaceted life — groups splintering into contrapuntal lines, couples coalescing in pas de deux, then regrouping with new partners, or individuals erupting into dazzling solos — references from various Balanchine ballets bloom and dissolve. Here are the knock-kneed chorus-girl lines of “Stravinsky Violin Concerto”; the acerbic, experimental partnering of the opening pas de deux in “Four Temperaments”; the acrobatic, pushed-to-the-limit flexibility of “Agon”; the high-spirited jogging groups of “Rubies.”
Of course, anyone can quote. In “The Second Detail” Mr. Forsythe offers a rigorous and playful exploration of ballet’s precepts: verticality, equilibrium, effort, control and classical line. Those explorations are infused with his own distinctive kinetic sensibility, including the through-the-body impulses that can begin from any point; the highly articulated use of the arms, hands and back; the rhythmic complexity that demands stillness woven into speed; the disruption of conventional balletic logic.
The atmosphere of “The Second Detail” is collegial, experimental, like a ballet studio inhabited by intensely curious collaborators. When they aren’t dancing, the performers sometimes sit on a line of chairs at the back, watching. Occasionally that line too morphs into a dreamlike, seated backup dance.
As Mr. Forsythe’s many imitators keep proving, it’s easy to go for the big-kick, contemporary attitude of his style and ignore the nuances. All credit to Jill Johnson, a member of the original Canadian cast and a longtime Forsythe dancer, for adapting the work to the Boston dancers with impeccable attention to stylistic detail. The first cast, in particular, on Saturday night found a fine balance of joyous spontaneity and rigor, with standout performances from Kathleen Breen Combes, Erica Cornejo, Isaac Akiba and John Lam; Robert Kretz was notable in the matinee. Only the final wild-woman solo, danced by Lorna Feijóo at both performances, failed to dominate the stage as it should.
There’s an unusual artistic coherence to this bill. The second work, “Part I, II, III,” is by Helen Pickett, who danced with Mr. Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt for over a decade. The third, “Bella Figura” (the name of the overall program as well), is by Jiri Kylian, the Czech-born choreographer, who, like Mr. Forsythe, danced with the Stuttgart Ballet before building a substantial oeuvre as director of the Nederlands Dans Theater.
Sandwiched between two major figures, Ms. Pickett holds her own with notable poise, made all the more remarkable by her choice of music by one of the ballet world’s most overused composers, Arvo Pärt. “Tsukiyo,” the second segment of her piece, deploys the drop-by-drop piano of Mr. Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel.” But Ms. Pickett creates her own magic here in an exquisite duet that blends a limpid fluidity with a tactile warmth, danced with emotional intensity by both Ms. Breen Combes and Lorin Mathis at the matinee, and by Lia Cirio and Sabi Varga in the evening.
The first section, “Layli O Manjun,” to “Orient and Occident,” is also a pas de deux (Larissa Ponomarenko and Yury Yanowsky were particularly touching in the evening), inspired by a Persian folk tale, with themes of love and loss woven into more dramatic, larger-scale movement.
Part III, “Tabula Rasa,” offers eight dancers moving under a glowing set of light tubes, and it shows Mr. Forsythe’s influence in its juxtapositions of groups and solos, its extreme articulations and speed. It feels disconnected from the first sections, but the ballet displays Ms. Pickett’s skill, ambition and individuality.
Mr. Kylian’s “Bella Figura,” created in 1995 and set to music by Lukas Foss and several Baroque composers, has a painterly beauty. Its nine dancers are increasingly confined and framed by curtains that drop from above. At one point men and women alike are topless in long, panniered red skirts, as two fires burn brightly at the back of the stage.
The movement, pliant and gestural with classical lines and earthy contemporary overtones, is smoothly appealing and beautifully danced, but it’s Mr. Kylian’s intensely visual sensibility, the way he moves the eye from the individual to the larger composition and back, that is most noticeable here. In this program, you see that influence, as well as Mr. Forsythe’s, on Ms. Pickett’s work — a highly pleasurable lesson in how dance morphs, evolves and lives on.