|| Patriot Ledger
|| May 5, 2013
|| Iris Fanger
The curtain rises on a cool, white space, defined by a box at the rear with a large rectangular stage cut into it.
Two dancers in the center begin to push and pull each other into shapes and stretches so extreme that it seems their limbs will be torn from their sockets. Three more performers, their backs to the audience, stand still for the first moment at stage right, waiting their turn. All the while, the music - as strange and varied as the movements - swirls around them.
Welcome to the world of British choreographer Wayne McGregor, who has created "Chroma," which thrusts the Boston Ballet into the future and challenges viewers' ingrained notions about the art form.
Set to a mix of music by Joby Talbot and Jack White of The White Stripes and featuring six percussionists spilling out of the orchestra pit into boxes at either side of the stage, "Chroma" has ripped through the ballet kingdom since its premiere with the Royal Ballet in 2006. Thursday night, the viewers reacted with a whistling, screaming standing ovation keeping the 10 dancers on the stage for multiple curtain calls.
McGregor is a wonder, ricocheting from film ("Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire") to opera (directing a Purcell work at La Scala, Milan) and dances with his own company. He is looking to propel ballet from the studio, to leave technique behind. He demands a superhuman effort, even for dancers as versatile as the members of the Boston Ballet.
Some images from "Chroma" to remember: bodies turning themselves inside out, punctuated by a re-occurring, snake-like shimmy through the torsos; Whitney Jensen and Paulo Arrais in a duet that's more of an assault; Lia Cirio, supported by an elegant Lasha Khozashvili, as she slowly bends and twists, to be lifted every which way. Later, a trio of men - Isaac Akiba, Jeffrey Cirio and John Lam - perform an in-your face series of quick-tempo phrases, zinging their virtuosity straight at the audience. The four women - Kathleen Breen Combes, Lia Cirio, Jensen and Misa Kuranaga - are brutally curled, hoisted and dragged by the men, but survive and come back for more. "Chroma" delivered surprise after surprise.
"Chroma" was all the more effective since it was book-ended on the program by two sublime ballets of George Balanchine, a rebel in his day. Kuranaga, Ashley Ellis and Dusty Button wafted through the blue-lighted stage to lead the 17 women in "Serenade," Balanchine's almost unbearably lovely homage to the corps de ballet, created in 1934, the first ballet he made when he came to America.
The Tchaikovsky music and the free-floating, long tulle skirts worn by the women only reinforced the traditional image of the multiple ballerinas as beautiful incarnations of sisterhood. The evening ended with "Symphony in C," as traditional a ballet as can be imagined, choreographed for a company of 52 dancers to Georges Bizet's evocative score. Kuranaga, Lia Cirio, Jensen and Combes, costumed this time in traditional, short, Russian-style tutus, led the four movements, which built to an avalanche of dancers criss-crossing the stage in unison by the finale. Combes and Jeffrey Cirio were particularly winning in the third movement, with a jaunty lift to their bodies and wide smiles, as if they couldn't believe they were having so much fun.
Boston was given a glimpse of two new company dancers: Seo Hye Han, who won the gold medal at last year's Boston International Ballet Competition, and the Cuban-born Alejandro Virelles. Kudos to the Boston Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Jonathan McPhee, which gave sterling support to the dancers, as always.