|| The Boston Globe
|| May 22, 2010
|| Thea Singer
Last night, in Czech choreographer Jirí Kylián’s evening-length “Black and White,’’ the Boston Ballet made modernism new. The troupe took Kylián’s driving, often overwrought aesthetic — a compendium of tuned-in knees and lascivious body rubs, screeching vocals and hands rattling between splayed legs — and imbued it with musicality and intention. In so doing, they made what could have been cliché-ridden sing.
Last year, Boston Ballet became the first company outside of Kylián’s own Nederlands Dans Theater to perform “Black and White’’ in its entirety. Back by popular demand, it’s a searing five-part dramatic abstraction that splinters sexual mores and reveals the hot source of both aggression and passion.
Stringing together the pieces is an unlikely leitmotif: multilayered period ball gowns that skitter across the stage on casters, hover overhead with bell skirts gaping, or are “worn’’ by the dancers, as they slip behind the dresses’ rigid folds.
The night begins with “No More Play’’ (1988), a dance for five set to the discordant strains of Anton Webern. The gown featured here is poufy and green, and zips across the stage like a scampering mouse. Geometry is the order of the day: Three dancers lean forward, their backsides meeting as the hub of a wheel, their flat backs and outstretched arms the spokes. Kathleen Breen Combes’s limbs, in particular, seem to extend from here to tomorrow. A man and a woman smack belly to belly, then sink to the ground and curl inward. Erica Cornejo is at once lithe and crackling; held upside down, she pedals the air. At the end, all five dancers sit and arc back at the stage edge till their heads dangle above the orchestra pit. Game over.
In 1991’s “Petite Mort’’ (a French euphenism for orgasm), set to Mozart, the lights — impeccably done throughout by Joop Caboort — come up on six men, in goldish briefs, brandishing fencing foils. They grasp the foils in the crook of their knees and rub their necks with them — Freud would have had a field day. But the piece comes most alive when six women enter and duets begin. John Lam runs his foil up the leg of Rie Ichikawa as she pushes into an arabesque. Her legs bending and folding become a Rorschach inkblot. Men lift women from underneath their thighs. Whitney Jensen, a corps member, is a lanky, leggy surprise. As Boyko Dossev’s hand reaches through her legs, she turns almost inside out.
“Sarabande’’ (1990), to Bach, accosts you. Its six men alternately holler and shush as they march, slam the ground, and slither, their shirts now pulled over their heads, their pants now crumpled around their ankles. Arms twist and clutch, forming their own straitjacket. Suspended by ropes overhead are six ball gowns: their skirts caverns to be explored. Yury Yanowsky, trapped by his pants like a man weighted by ball and chain, stuns as he undulates, serpentlike.
“Falling Angels,’’ to a Steve Reich’s throbbing “Drumming: Part 1,’’ is a rhythmic walk on the wild side for eight women. Their legs splay and clack, shoulders shrug, pelvises thrust, and limp wrists conk foreheads. Lia Cirio is riveting, with her knees opening and closing lickety-split, her fingers fluttering at the small of the back. But all the dancers are wonderful, refreshingly irreverent. They move in unison and small groups, building to multiple crescendos. The beat is regular, constant; the dancers’ phrasing is what lifts the piece to art.
Finally comes “Sechs Tänze’’ (1986), a spoof on the period dances represented by those omnipresent gowns.
Set to Mozart, it’s a comedy of manners, with wigs and powdered faces to boot. The Boston Ballet dancers carry it off with aplomb.