|| The Patriot Ledger
|| May 10, 2014
|| Iris Fanger
The Boston Ballet continues its 50th anniversary season with a stunner of a program that offered as many surprises as satisfactions to an audience that roared its' appreciation throughout the Thursday opening performance.
Artistic director, Mikko Nissinen, who has just had his contract renewed for five more years, certainly has his eyes wide open for European hot-shot choreographers. In addition to introducing house choreographer, Jorma Elo, he has now enlisted Czech choreographer, Petr Zuska, and the Swedish born rebel, Alexander Ekman. The members of the Boston Ballet took to their works like race horses bolting from the gate.
But first, the dancers did themselves and Nissinen proud in the evening's curtain-raiser, "Etudes," a mid-20th century classic. Created by the Dane, Harald Lander, the fiendishly difficult work is set to the spiraling credenzas of Carl Czerny's music. It starts off sedately enough, although at a rapid tempo, with a corps of 12 women in black tutus at a trio of ballet barres positioned on an empty stage. The spotlight comes up on their feet, pointing in and out in classroom exercises, but that's only the warm-up. By the end, the women in black will be competing madly to out-do a line-up of women in white, enhanced by a male corps de ballet, and three male soloists, centered by the ballerina, Misa Kuranaga.
The entire ensemble of "Etudes" ups the ante in linked turns and space devouring leaps, to make a viewer gasp in admiration. The mood changes in the middle to a whiff of the 1840s Romantic Ballet, with Kuranaga, an illusion in a long, white, tutu, partnered by a courtly John Lam, before returning to more virtuosic demands. Isaac Akiba, stepping in for an ailing soloist, and the ever-spectacular, Jeffrey Cirio, supported Kuranaga, who delivered her turns as if racing the speed of light.
Fast forward to the 21st century: Zuska's "D.M.J. 1953-1977" is a work in style and intention far different from the glittering "Etudes." The theme is love and loss; the stage is set with a tombstone-like box at stage right. Holding a single rose, the mourner, Lasha Khozashvili, steps slowly to the grave. Later the curtain rises on five couples on five more boxes which could be coffins, or perhaps a reminder of the box-car trains of the Holocaust. A single rose descends from above each of the couples as they mirror Khozashvili's emotions, mixing ballet steps with contemporary movement.
Khozashvili is joined by his partner, Lia Cirio, in a pas de deux of seeking, finding and loosing, to produce one of the most poignant pairings of the season. Cirio is unsurpassed as an actress-dancer, with a body as lithe and flexible as can be imagined. Later, when the dancers strip to flesh-colored briefs, the sense of vulnerability is more pronounced, capping a beautiful, if abstract, portrayal of sorrow. The title refers to the three famous Czech composers, Antonin Dvorak, Bohuslav Martinu, and Leos Janacek whose works were excerpted and combined in the score.
A 360 degree, change of pace came in the final work, Ekman's "Cacti," a ballet in bare feet, that might have been created by silent film comics, Buster Keaton and Harold Lang, if they had been choreographers now. Combining extreme physical movement, including every style of dance, body slaps, a pounding of the boxes the dancers are glued to (yes, boxes again), with ironic comments piped in pretentious art lingo, mingling in a score extracted from Haydn, Beethoven and others. Four musicians wandered on stage among the 16 dancers, as if anything goes. Jeffrey Cirio and Whitney Jensen were featured in a pas de deux set to their own voices in nonsensical conversation, while bright lights from a moving, overhead bar illuminated the scene. And then there were those huge cacti, carried on by the dancers, signifying nothing, in a nod to the Dada tradition. A special thumbs-up must be given to the Boston Ballet orchestra , directed by Jonathan McPhee, which kept track of and up with the dancers throughout the jolt-filled evening.