Boston Ballet Dancers "Play With Fire"

“What differentiates you from the other choreographers?”

“I’m better.”

The crowd erupts with laughter as Jorma Elo, resident choreographer of the Boston Ballet, smiles during a preview and disscussion at the Harvard Dance Center. Much like its choreographer’s personality, “Sharp Side of the Dark,” a piece within “Play With Fire”, retains an innocent quality and humor in its dance movements and nuances. The ballet was the beginning of three excerpts that were highlighted Friday night as a preview for “Play With Fire”, the Boston Ballet’s newest program, at the Harvard Dance Center. The three-piece set served as a testament to the progression of modern dance and the Boston Ballet’s commitment to expanding its horizons. It was followed by a panel discussion featuring Elo as well as company dancers Rachel Cossar and Sabi Varga and artistic director Mikko Nissinen, who served as the moderator for the night.

Last Friday, Elo taught a public ballet master class at Harvard that coincided with Boston Ballet’s long-standing idea of spreading the love of dance and the growth of ballet. After starting with warm-ups, the dancers proceeded with phrases of choreography that lasted for about thirty seconds and were repeated after corrections from Elo. Whitney R. S. Fitts ’12, who took the class, says Elo’s “really strong attention to detail changed the quality of dancing.”

This attention to minutiae was made apparent in “Sharp Side of the Dark,” originally performed in 2002, through the isolation of movement and unusual placements of the hands. “[The hand movements] come naturally to me,” says Elo during the discussion. “That’s the way I react to music.” Starting with silence, the ballet progresses to the soft singing of the dancers and finally continues to the sudden introduction of an orchestral movement by Bach. This transition and unique usage of silence and music underlines the dancers’ purposeful actions and the night’s emphasis on modern movement.

Following Elo’s work was an excerpt from “Rooster”, which was set to music by the Rolling Stones and choreographed by Christopher Bruce. The piece provided an insight into the tenuous relationship between using popular music and artistic integrity by featuring music from a band that wanted to remain original in the face of commerical interests. The program ended with “Bella Figura” by Jiri Kylian, who Nissinen called  “possibly the foremost contemporary choreographer.”

A bold and forward-thinking style of dance defines Boston Ballet’s mantra. Never performed in the United States until now, “Bella Figura” wasn’t the first Kylian work performed by the company. “Black and White,” a five-work set only otherwise presented at the Nederlands Dans Theater preceeded “Bella Figura” as the first to be performed stateside. According to Nissinen,  “Black and White” opened to great successes, leading the way for “Bella Figura”.

Without the aid of rehearsal clothes  and the glare of lights and stage equipment, the performance had a pesonal feeling. Speaking to the emotional impact of the dances, Hazel A. Lever ’13, former director and current producer of the Harvard Ballet Company, says “It was interesting to see how touching the dance was without the costumes and the elaborate effects that they have in the theater.”

The discussion was unstructured, allowing insight into the speakers’ artistic views and personalities. Ranging from ballet in communist Hungary to Elo’s preparation for choreographing the dancers, the discussion subjects were varied and telling to the depth behind ballet.

“I… want the company to reflect the makeup of the people in Boston” says Nissinen. “I’m not looking for cookie-cutter [dancers].” As evidenced by the dancers, who were of 10 different nationalities, and the choice of music and repertoire, Boston Ballet’s development of an artistically progressive identity is apparent. With a glimmer of pride, Nissinen firmly asserts that the Boston Ballet is definitely a “ballet company of the future.”

—Staff writer Neha Mehrotra can be reached at nehamehrotra@college.harvard.edu.

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