THEATER Without Words Directed by Anna-Marie Holmes, Jeffrey N. Babcock Feb 10-20 Boston Ballet Schubert Theater
Directed by Anna-Marie Holmes, Jeffrey N. Babcock
Schubert TheaterWordless Wonders
By DIANA MOVIUS
Imagine all the guests at your wedding dropping their wine glasses--in unison. While that may not happen in real life, it can happen at the Boston Ballet, in one of three pieces presented in their performance Without Words at the Shubert Theater last week.
The title piece, Nacho Duato's Without Words is a strikingly contemporary work. Dancing off-pointe, in soft shoes, performers wear a tight-fitting, flesh-colored suits, giving the impression of being nude. To put it lightly, as dance critic Anna Kisselgoff said, "Duato has a gift for the startling image." The choreography is equally as startling. It consists of busy, fast-paced steps, completely departing from even neo-classical ballet in both movement and atmosphere. Duato's choreography is difficult and tricky, and Boston Ballets dancers executed it with athleticism, clarity and polish.
Though clich for dance, the title Without Words is extremely appropriate. Every aspect of the piece creates an unsettling dichotomy between the movement and the other aspects of the piece. The frantic, often jarring movements directly contrasted with the calm harmony of the music, a Shubert composition for the piano and cello. Meanwhile, extremely large photographs of the dancers' movements are projected onto a large screen through which dancers enter and exit. The net result was a definite sense of silence. Visual sensory overload (the fluid movement and frequently-changing photography) combined with soothing, lullaby-esque Shubert music to underline the absence of words.
Unfortunately, this contrast grew tiresome. For the most part, Without Words made me long for words, or at least some explanatory material and emotional impact. I was constantly impressed with the skill of the dancers and the creative moves of the dance, but also felt myself wondering what the choreographer was trying to say and whether an underlying theme even existed. Honestly, I expected more substance from a piece that obtained rave reviews in 1998 from its New York premier. Despite the creative choreography and amazing dancers, it is simply hard to sustain an interest in a piece based solely on an appreciation for movement.
The piece that followed Without Words, however, had more than enough emotional impact. Mark Godden's Another Year, set to tense music by Henryk Gorecki, dramatizes the disintegration of a marriage. The piece, not surprisingly, opens with a marriage: a couple embraces while the guests hold up wine glasses in a toast. Suddenly, the music clashes and all the guests let go of their cups, which (because they are tied to the ceiling by invisible wire) then swing in unison for the remainder of the ballet. This stark, surprising introduction immediately drew me into the piece. The ever-present wine glasses represent the promises and happiness of the wedding; they hang from the ceiling to show a direct opposition to the unhappy events that ensue. The bride has an affair and ultimately is forced to choose between her lover and her husband. At one extremely moving part of the dance, three other unhappy couples reach toward the ceiling toward the cups, as if wondering where the promises went.
The end is just as startling and symbolic as the beginning, and also makes use of wine glass imagery. The wine glasses lower from the ceiling, and the guests drop them once more, as if forever abandoning the notion of a happy marriage, leaving the bride, her husband and her lover in the center of the stage. Overall, the piece has lots of impact and emotional appeal--the viewer can't help but wonder what is haunting the characters and why their relationships aren't working out.
The last piece, Paul Taylor's Company B, surpasses both the others in interest, impact and emotion. A tribute to wartime America, Taylor uses memorable songs sung by the Andrews Sisters and ingenious choreography to place the audience in the midst of history and delve into wartime issues. From "I Can Dream, Cant I?" (a song about a woman whose love is overseas) to the "Pennsylvania Polka," Taylor's work explores many of the human faces and emotions of war. Overall, Company B gave a very real, human, touching experience of wartime life.